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Amiri Air Force / Royal Bahraini Air Force / حماة العز سلاح الجو الملكي البحريني
سلاح الجو الملكي البحريني
Fin flash till:
flash from: 14-02-2002
Credit: Roundels of the world
The title Royal Bahraini Air Force was adopted when the
country was renamed Kingdom of Bahrain on February 2002.
first request for information was made by the defence minister to the
local US ambassador in September 1976 regarding the Northrop F-5B,
F-5E, F-5F as the country was planning to set up an Air Wing within 5
to 7 years.
The Bahraini Defence Forces (as originally named) were
still equipped only with helicopters, when the
worsening situation in the Gulf area prompted the government to seek combat
aircrafts and develop an air defence capability.
On early 1982 the US government offered Northrop F-5E and F-5F for
about USD 180 million, but,
before acceptance, the offer was amended in September 1982 to read 4 Northrop
Tigersharks (later called
F-20A) and 2 F-5F; Bahrain was not
prepared to be the launch customer for the new Northrop F-5G. After
studying alternatives (such as the GAMD Mirage 2000 BAe Hawk) a later US offer
of 4 Northrop F-5E, 2 Northrop
F-5F and 60
AIM9-P-3 Sidewinders was accepted and a firm order placed in February
1982. Ten US government and three
contractor personnel were involved for technical support and to train
local technicians and pilots for 2
years, at a total
cost of USD 14 millions. A second contract, valued USD 92 million, was
Februray 1985, again for 4 F-5E and 2 F-5F plus 15 spare General Electric J-85
New infrastructure to operate the fighters had to be built, pilots were
to be trained and an early warning radar system, part of a Golf Coordination Council regional integrated air
defence system, had to be established.
Some helicopter pilots
underwent advanced training with the Royal Saudi AF and joning Saudi
units to gain further experience, while others were sent to the USA to follow an
advanced weapons and
tactics course on F-5 at Williams AFB with the
425th Tactical Flying Training Sqn.
By March 1987seven pilots had also undergone air-to-air training at
Electric's Center for Advanced Airmanship at Phoenix, Arizona (a private fighter pilots training
course included emergency and hostile situations, comprising 20 hours of simulator experience.
Finally, Bahrain enterd the jet age in October 1985 with
the acceptance of the first Tiger. Delivery started on December 1985: 2 Northrop F-5E (serials 681/682) and 2 Northrop F-5F
(serials 641/642) were air delivered, via Keflavik, Prestwick (arrival December 6th), Alconbury, Nice, Kerkira,
Tabuk to Manama International Airport; next were F-5E 683/684 and F-5F 643/644, transiting Prestwick on September
12th, 1986 and departing Alconbury on September 16th 1986; F-5E 685/686 followed on December 8th 1986 at Prestwick and F-5E 687/688 on January 21st, 1987, again at Prestwick .
F-5E 683, 684 with F-5F 643 resting on the Prestwick
apron on September 12th, 1986
Starting in 1987 a new Air Base, called Shaikh Isa AB, was built in the South of Bahrain's main Sintra Island at
a cost of USD 100 million, to accomodate the fighters, provisionally based at Manama International Airport, on
the island of Muharraq, a former Royal Air Force base. This was completed by May 1990.
The base also housed 8 Lockheed-Marting F-16C Block 40 and 4 Lockheed-Martin F-16D Block 40, the first having arrived on 23-05-90 to supplement the Northrop fighters.
The 6th Tactical Fighter Squadron "Fighting Sharks" (Serials page code:
6 Sqdn) was formed on arrival of the first F-5s, at Manama
Airport, moving in
June 1989, upon completion
the base, to Shaikh
Official badge and patch 1st TFW, badge 6th TF Sqn; new tail inscription/flag since mid-2000
Close co-operation was arranged with the Royal Saudi Air Force
regarding pilot training (training up to F-5 level),
the use of Saudi air space (due to the very
air space - 128 by 64 kms) and the use of nearby
Saudi bombing ranges to practise
live firing of air-to-ground
and air-to-air weaponry.
644 1994 with
Bahraini Amiri AF
titles and rocket
launcher - Photo: Northrop F-5
F-5E 685 with
Bahraini AF titles July 2004 - Photo: The
Northrop F-5 Enthusiast collection
Baptism of fire for the newly established Squadron came
with "Desert Storm" war against Iraq occupying Kuwait.
F-5s carried from January 25th 1991 defensive mission and from the 26th interdiction missions - around
three to four per day, often teamed with Bahraini F-16s, acting as escort fighters. BAAF F-5s attacked a
wide range of Iraqi targets in Kuwait, including radar
and communication sites, artillery positions and Silkworm missile
sites with 500 lbs Mk82 bombs,
totalling 127 combat sorties without losses.
operation started after the Gulf war, including participation to
multinational exercises, like "Peninsula Tiger 2" in Qatar in January
2001, with the partecipation of 5 Bahraini F-5s, 5 Omani Hawks, 6 Saudi
F-15s, 5 Kuwaiti F-18s, 6 United Arab Emirates Mirage 2000, Qatari
Mirage 2000s and Alpha Jets.
The same year saw for Bahraini Northrop F-5s and
General Dynamics F-16s the exceptional opportunity to exercise against
US Navy F-14 Tomcats assigned to Fighter Squadron (VF) 32.
yearly exercises are held involving forces belonging to members of the
Gulf Cooperation Council, like "Peninsula Hawk" and "Gulf Spears".
Northrop F-5s have been continously upgraded and optimised for the
ground attack role, including anti-shipping, while dissimilar air combat training is
often flown against local F-16s. Additionally
they have at present a useful training commitment; Tiger pilots fly at
least 300 hours before being taken into consideration for conversion to
the F-16C/D of the 1st or 2nd Fighter Squadron at Sheikh Isa AB.
American direct contract (not USAF) pilots are attached to the 6th
Squadron and perform Instructor Pilot duties.
The 6th Fighter Squadron participated also to the 14th "Initial Link" exercise from
the 11th till the 22nd May 2008, together with Bharaini F-16s from the
1st and 2nd Squadron plus Saudi AF BAE Tornado IDS (83 Squadron),
McDonnell F-15C (13 Squadron), Kuwait AF F/A18C (25 Squadron), Quatar
AF Mirage 2000-5 (7 Squadron), UAE AF F-16E (1/2 Squadron).
Northrop F-5s have some operational duties but are mainly used as fighter Lead-in trainers (300 hours) for new pilots coming from basic training on BAe Hawk and proceding to the Lockheed-Martin F-16.
A rather unusual deal was proposed by the US Navy during
Eighteen former aggressor Lockheed-Martin F-16N and TF-16N, withdrawn from use during 1994, were to be exchanged
against 12 Bahraini F-5s, but Bahrain preferred to buy 12 new Lockheed-Martin F-16C/D Block 40, later supplemented by an additional 10 F-16C Block 40, but keeping its Northrop F-5s and leading to the formation of the 1st Tactical Fighter Wing.
Search for a Tiger replacement started in 2010; candidates have been, as usual, Lockheed-Martin F-16, Boeing
F-18, Dassault Rafale, BAE Eurofighter. Ths last might have a chance as
neighbour Saudi Arabia already uses it; anyhow there have been
discussions in August and November 2013.
A photo taken by a satellite
on 20-04-13 at the Sheikh Isa AB shows all 12 Northrop F-5s lined-up,
confirming that no aircrafts had been lost.