IDEX 2017

Fighter programmes begin to bear fruit [IDEX17D2]

19 February 2017

Since the last IDEX exhibition there has been considerable movement in the fighter market in the Middle East-North Africa (MENA) region, not only in terms of new orders, but also with the beginning of deliveries from previous orders. For beleaguered fighter manufacturers in Europe and the USA, beset by shrinking budgets in their domestic markets, the fighter boom in the MENA region has been a welcome development.

For Dassault, for instance, the sale of the Rafale to the Egyptian air force represented the first firm order for the type after many years of marketing, and a number of “near misses” such as an aborted sale to Morocco. Egypt ordered 24 Rafales on 16 February 2015 and the first three of them were delivered in July that year. A further three arrived in January 2016. The order is split between eight single-seaters and 16 two-seaters.

Not long after Egypt bought the type, Qatar announced its intentions to acquire the Rafale in late April 2015, with a contract being signed for 24, plus 12 options, on 4 May. The Rafale had been evaluated against a number of types, and will supplant the Mirage 2000-9s that are currently in service with the Qatar Emiri Air Force (QEAF). Underlining the rising star of the Rafale, India finally concluded long-running negotiations with an order for 36 aircraft in September 2016.

Qatar’s Rafale deal is part of a massive spending spree by the oil-and-gas-rich state covering a wide range of defence equipment. Also on the table is a requirement for up to 72 F-15QA Advanced Eagles from Boeing. Similar to the F-15SA Eagle for Saudi Arabia, the acquisition of Advanced Eagles would dramatically enhance the capabilities of the QEAF. US Congress had held up the sale to Qatar for some time, but this was finally approved last November.

Saudi Arabia itself has started to receive the first F-15SA aircraft that were ordered in a huge deal covering 84 new-build aircraft, and the modification to F-15SA standard of 68 existing F-15S Eagles. What Boeing terms the F-15 Advanced has an APG-63(V)3 AESA radar, additional outer wing pylons, flat-panel cockpit displays and a Tiger Eyes infrared search and track system. Deliveries to Saudi Arabia began in December, and the type was officially unveiled in a ceremony at Riyadh on 25 January.

Also approved at the same time as the Qatari F-15 deal was the sale of up to 40 Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornets to Kuwait. Within days of the approval, the Kuwait Air Force announced it would be buying 28 Super Hornets. These aircraft will serve alongside the 28 Eurofighter Typhoon multi-role fighters that were ordered, together with a training and support package, through the Italian government in April.

With BAE Systems and the UK government leading the sales effort, the Eurofighter consortium continues to seek a follow-on order for the Typhoon from Saudi Arabia. The Kingdom has bought 72, and is reportedly interested in a further 48.

Another customer for the Typhoon in the region is Oman, which ordered 12 in December 2012. The first aircraft from that order undertook its first flight from BAE’s Warton plant in recent weeks, and the type is due to enter Omani service this year.

Eurofighter continues to tout the Typhoon in Bahrain as a potential replacement for the country’s elderly F-5 fighters. In the meantime, a request was submitted to the US Congress last September for the possible sale of additional F-16s to Bahrain. Approval was initially held up by the Obama administration, but signs have emerged in recent days that the Trump administration is preparing to approve the sale.

In September 2011, Iraq concluded a deal for 18 F-16IQ Block 52 aircraft from Lockheed Martin, acquired via the US government. This was soon followed by an order for a second 18-aircraft batch. On 5 June 2014 the first was formally handed over to the Iraqi air force at the Fort Worth factory, with training being undertaken at Tucson, Arizona. An initial batch of F-16s arrived in Iraq in July 2015, and began flying combat missions soon after. However, the ongoing war against Daesh caused the US government to temporarily hold up deliveries to Iraq, the second batch not being delivered until August 2016.

In the meantime, desperate to receive jet aircraft to continue the fight with Daesh, Iraq sought Su-25 ‘Frogfoot’ aircraft from Russia, a batch of five being delivered in late June 2015. They were followed by aircraft gifted by Iran, or more accurately returned, as the aircraft had originally fled Iraq at the end of the 1991 Gulf War. Further aircraft have also been acquired from Russia. Meanwhile, Algeria continues to add to its Sukhoi Su-30MKA fleet, having received an additional eight aircraft in December to join the 44 aircraft acquired since 2006.

Another six remain to be delivered to bring the fleet total to 58.

(809 words)