Royal Bahraini Air Force

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Royal Bahraini Air Force
سلاح الجو الملكي البحريني
Royal Bahraini Air Force emblem.svg
Royal Bahraini Air Force emblem
Active 1977 – Present
Country  Bahrain
Branch Air Force
Role Aerial warfare
Size 1,500 active personnel (2009)
100 aircraft (2009).
Part of Ministry of Defense
Bahrain Defense Force
Headquarters Bahrain International Airport
Nickname(s) RBAF
Engagements Gulf War
2015 military intervention in Yemen
Commander Maj Gen Hamad bin Abdullah Al Khalifa
Roundel Roundel of Bahrain.svg
Flag Flag of the Royal Bahraini Air Force.svg
Aircraft flown
Attack AH-1E, AH-1P, TAH-1P
Fighter F-16, F-5
Helicopter Bell 212, Bell 412, Bell 427, MBB BO-105, UH-60
Trainer BH-129, T-67
Transport BAE-146

The Royal Bahraini Air Force (Arabic: سلاح الجو الملكي البحريني‎‎, abbreviated as RBAF, formerly known as Bahrain Amiri Air Force) is the aerial warfare branch of the Bahrain Defense Force (BDF). Originally formed as the BDF Air Wing in 1977, it became an independent service branch in 1987. Its first combat operations were conducted during the Gulf War.


A Bahrain Air Force Agusta-Bell 212 Twin Huey in flight over the Persian Gulf during a training mission in 1991

The Bahrain Defence Force, which itself had come into being after the country's independence from the United Kingdom in 1971, first organized an air wing in 1977. This small force grew gradually and in 1987, the BDF was reorganized into distinct service branches, with the air wing becoming the new Bahrain Amiri Air Force (BAAF).

After the elections on 14 February 2002, the state changed from an emirate to a kingdom resulting in the renaming of the Armed Forces. The BAAF was consequently given its current title, the Royal Bahraini Air Force (RBAF).


The new Air Force was soon involved in its first combat operations during the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait subsequent Gulf War. Air bases in Bahrain first hosted escaping Kuwait Air Force aircraft and, as air operations against Iraq began, F-5 and F-16 aircraft were used in both defensive and offensive air operations through the conclusion of the Gulf War on 28 February 1991.

Bahrain would again engage in combat operations as part of the Saudi Arabia-led Operation Decisive Storm, operating from bases in Saudi Arabia against Houthi rebel forces in Yemen during March and April 2015. Initially, fifteen F-16 aircraft were deployed as the RBAF contribution to combat forces in the operation. Bahrain's forces remained in Saudi Arabia in assistance of the coalition through 2015.[1] An RBAF F-16 was lost when it crashed after a technical problem in December 2015.[2]


The BDF Air Wing was originally equipped with only helicopters, but it entered the ranks of jet fighter operators with the acquisition of Northrop F-5 fighters from the United States. These aircraft were of limited capability in comparison with the fighters entering service with other Gulf states such as Iran, Iraq, and Saudi Arabia. Bahrain had sought to purchase a more advanced aircraft, and considered several American and European fighter aircraft including the F-15 Eagle, F-16 Fighting Falcon, F/A-18 Hornet, Mirage 2000, and Tornado.[3] They initially selected the F-16, but the United States only offered the F-16/79, a planned export version powered by the older and less powerful J79 engine, prompting the Air Wing to choose the F-5 instead as initial jet equipment.[4] Once this limit was removed, an order for a dozen F-16C/D Fighting Falcons was placed under the Peace Crown program. Deliveries commenced on 23 May 1990, just before the country became involved in the Gulf War. The new F-16 unit was based at the newly constructed Sheik Isa Air Base alongside the F-5s. A second batch of ten F-16s commenced delivery in 2000 under the Peace Crown II program. The new aircraft represented a further increase in the air force's combat capabilities, as they were equipped to carry the AMRAAM missile, first used by the USAF in 1992. Air-to-air armament had been limited to the short-range AIM-9M Sidewinder missile and internal cannon through the Gulf War. After the war, the country began to acquire more advanced weapons, including the AIM-7M Sparrow radar-guided air-to-air missile and LANTIRN navigation and targeting pod for air-to-ground weapons that would also be acquired such as the GBU-10/12 laser guided bombs and AGM-65D/G Maverick air-to-ground missiles.[4]

In July 2000, Bahrain signed a deal with BAE Systems to establish a pilot academy based around the Hawk Trainer, similar to the NFTC in Canada. Subsequently, orders were placed for Slingsby T67 Firefly and BAE Hawk trainers. The first trainers were delivered in October 2006.[5]

Upgrade of the helicopter force has included new utility transports, and on 19 June 2007, Bahrain signed a letter of offer and acceptance for nine UH-60M Black Hawk helicopters to be purchased as part of the Foreign Military Sales program through the United States Army. These are designated for use in a variety of roles, including combat search and rescue. They were the international launch customer for the UH-60M variant of the venerable S-70 helicopter family.[6] Deliveries commenced on 1 December 2009[7]

A single Sikorsky S-92 VVIP helicopter was purchased by the Air Force in 2007 and placed in service with the Bahrain Royal Flight.[8]

Incidents and Accidents[edit]

  • 27 September 2003: F-16C Block 40 Fighting Falcon (s/n RBAF 204; c/n AC-12) crashed in the Persian Gulf, 75 km (47 mi) north of Bahrain. This was the first F-16 loss for Bahrain and attributed to the pilot becoming disoriented during maneuvers.[9]
  • 30 December 2015: An F-16 Fighting Falcon crashed in Jizan Province, Saudi Arabia while supporting the Saudi Arabian-led intervention in Yemen. The pilot was recovered safely and the crash was attributed to technical issues.[2]



Squadron Wing Aircraft Base
1st Fighter Squadron Fighter Wing[10] F-16C/D[10] Isa Air Base[10]
2nd Fighter Squadron Fighter Wing[10] F-16C[10] Isa Air Base[10]
3rd Helicopter Squadron Helicopter Wing AB 212,[10] UH-60M[10] Riffa Air Base[10]
4th Squadron Training Wing[10] T67M260[10] Isa Air Base[10]
5th Squadron Training Wing[10] Hawk 129[10] Isa Air Base[10]
6th Fighter Squadron Fighter Wing[10] F-5E/F[10] Isa Air Base[10]
8th Helicopter Squadron Helicopter Wing AH-1E,[10] TAH-1P[10] Riffa Air Base[10]
9th Helicopter Squadron Helicopter Wing AH-1E,[10] TAH-1P[10] Riffa Air Base[10]
10th Helicopter Squadron Helicopter Wing Bo 105C[10] Riffa Air Base[10]


Base Location Runway Units
Isa Air Base 9.7 kilometres (6.0 mi) south of Jaww, Southern Governorate 1 x 3,800 metres (12,500 ft) concrete Fighter Wing[10]
Training Wing[10]
379th Air Expeditionary Wing (USAF)
Sakhir Air Base 1 kilometre (0.62 mi) east of Zallaq, Southern Governorate 1 x 3,200 metres (10,500 ft) paved
2 x helipad
Bahrain Amiri Royal Flight[11]
Riffa Air Base 3.2 kilometres (2.0 mi) south east of Riffa, Southern Governorate 1 x 175 metres (574 ft)
multiple helipads
Helicopter Wing
Muharraq Air Base Bahrain International Airport, Muharraq 1 x 3,956 metres (12,979 ft) asphalt Aviation Support Unit Bahrain (USN)
former Royal Air Force station


The air force had 650 personnel in 1992[12] and 1,500 in 2009.[13]


Type Origin Class Role Introduced In service Total Notes
AB 212 United States helicopter utility 18[14]
AH-1E/F Cobra United States helicopter attack 22[14]
Bo 105 Germany helicopter trainer 4[14]
F-5E United States jet day fighter 8[14]
F-5F United States jet operational trainer 4[14]
F-16C Fighting Falcon United States jet multi-role fighter 15[14] 19 additional approved by US Congress
F-16D Fighting Falcon United States jet operational trainer 4[14]
Hawk 129 United Kingdom jet trainer 6[14]
S-92 VVIP United States helicopter VIP transport 2008[15] 1 1[8] operated for the Bahrain Royal Flight[15]
T67M260 Firefly United Kingdom prop basic trainer 3[14]
TAH-1P United States helicopter operational trainer 8[14]
UH-60M United States helicopter utility 8[14]


Bahrain is planning to recapitalize its fighter fleet. Replacement of the F-5 fleet is to be accomplished with additional F-16 orders in the near term, while longer term plans call for a more capable aircraft to be acquired to add to or replace the F-16 fleet. Bahrain is considering buying the Eurofighter Typhoon, the JAS 39 Gripen, the Dassault Rafale, or the F-35 Lightning II.[16] The British government is in early talks with Bahrain over a potential order for the Eurofighter Typhoon fighter.[17] In September 2016 it was announced that the sale of up to 19 further F-16s had been submitted to the US Congress for approval, however the White House later advised that it would not complete the approval unless it showed progress on human rights issues arising from the Bahraini protests of 2011.[18][19]

Bahrain is also looking to upgrade its attack helicopter fleet and in January 2014, the Bahraini Air Force began looking for replacements for its AH-1 Cobra attack helicopters. Candidates include the AH-64 Apache, Eurocopter Tiger, TAI T-129, Mi-28 Havoc, and Ka-52 Alligator.[20]


  1. ^ "Saudi 'Decisive Storm' waged to save Yemen". Al Arabiya English. Al Arabiya News. 25 March 2015. Retrieved 4 January 2017. 
  2. ^ a b "Bahrain F-16 crashes in Saudi near Yemen border after technical issue". Middle East Eye. 30 December 2015. Retrieved 4 January 2017. 
  3. ^ "Royal Bahraini Air Force". F-16 Users. Retrieved 5 January 2017. 
  4. ^ a b "1st Tactical Fighter Squadron (RBAF)". F-16 Units. Retrieved 4 January 2017. 
  5. ^ "Bahrain". Armed Forces Overviews. Scramble. Retrieved 4 January 2017. 
  6. ^ Sikorsky (19 June 2007). "Bahrain Agrees to Purchase Nine Sikorsky UH-60M Helicopters; Becomes International Launch Customer". Paris, France: Retrieved 4 January 2017. 
  7. ^ Sikorsky (1 December 2009). "Sikorsky Aircraft Delivers UH-60M Black Hawk Helicopter to Bahrain Defense Forces". Horseheads, New York, United States: Retrieved 4 January 2017. 
  8. ^ a b Sikorsky (13 November 2007). "Bahrain Purchases VVIP S-92 Helicopter". Dubai, United Arab Emirates: Retrieved 4 January 2017. 
  9. ^ "F-16 Aircraft Profile: 98-2015". F-16 Aircraft Database. Retrieved 4 January 2017. 
  10. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z aa ab "Royal Bahraini Air Force". Armed Forces Overviews. Scramble. Retrieved 4 January 2017. 
  11. ^ "Bahrain: Government". Armed Forces Overviews. Scramble. Retrieved 4 January 2017. 
  12. ^ Metz, Helen Chapin (January 1993). Persian Gulf states: country studies. Washington, DC, USA: Library of Congress. LCCN 93046476. Retrieved 5 January 2017. 
  13. ^ "Chapter Five: Middle East and North Africa". The Military Balance. Routledge. 109: 229. 2009. doi:10.1080/04597220802709902. 
  14. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k "World Air Forces 2015 pg. 11". Flightglobal Insight. 2015. Retrieved 26 December 2014. 
  15. ^ a b "sikorsky S-92A VVIP c/n 92-0079". Helicopter History Site. 
  16. ^ Bahraini Air Force Typhoon Order In Prospect -, 8 August 2013
  17. ^
  18. ^ "Fighter Jet Sales to Gulf Allies Backed by U.S. After a Wait". Bloomberg. 29 September 2016. Retrieved 29 September 2016. 
  19. ^ "Bahrain's Lockheed F-16 Buy Said to Come With U.S. Strings". Bloomberg. 30 September 2016. Retrieved 3 October 2016. 
  20. ^ Bahrain; Next generation attack helicopter program -, 23 January 2014