Yemeni Air Force

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Yemeni Air Force
القوات الجوية اليمنية
Emblem of the Yemeni Air Force.svg
ColorsRed, White, and Black
EngagementsYemeni Civil War (1994)
Houthi insurgency in Yemen
Al-Qaeda insurgency in Yemen
Yemeni Revolution
Yemeni Civil War (2015–present)
Saudi Arabian-led intervention in Yemen
Saudi–Yemeni border conflict (2015–present)
RoundelRoundel of Yemen.svg
Fin flashFlag of Yemen.svg
FlagFlag of the Yemeni Air Force.svg
Aircraft flown
FighterMiG-21, MiG-29, F-5
HelicopterMil Mi-17, Bell 204, Bell 212
Attack helicopterMil Mi-24
TrainerAero L-39, Yak-11, Zlin Z 142
TransportC-130, Il-76, An-12, An-24, An-26, Yak-40

The Yemeni Air Force (Arabic: القوات الجوية اليمنية‎; transliterated: al-Quwwat al-Jawwiya al-Yamaniya) is the air operations branch of the Yemeni Armed Forces. It is equipped with both eastern and western types of aircraft. Numbers of aircraft can not be confirmed but serviceability of these aircraft is low. Aircraft have been acquired by donations from other countries supporting either the Soviet Union or the United States during the Cold War. However, most of the air force was destroyed by airstrikes conducted by the "Arab coalition" consisting mainly of Saudi Arabia and UAE: 2015 military intervention in Yemen.

North and South Yemen[edit]

The Yemen Air Force, known as al-Quwwat al-Jawwiya al-Yamaniya, was established in 1926. They first received help from Germany and Italy, also some Yemeni personnel trained abroad, but lack of suitable tools and spares made the Imam give up his efforts and never relaunch them. This changed in the 1950s when the Imam of Yemen signed a major arms deal with Czechoslovakia including 24 Avia B-33 fighter-bombers, 10 Zlin-Z 126 trener training aircraft and other military vehicles for ground forces including T-34 tanks. Later the Soviets started assisting them and provided 6 MiL-Mi 4 helicopters and 4 Mi-2 helicopters, as well as several transport aircraft. The royalist imamate air force never saw any action during the civil war, this was due to royalist air bases being occupied by Republicans from the start and royalist pilots abandoning their positions Later, the Soviets delivered MiG-15 and MiG-17 fighters, followed by MiG-21s to the South Yemen Air Force. The northern Yemen Arab Republic (YAR) had ties with Western countries, and they supported a new air force. In the 1970s, the United States of America delivered F-5E and F-5B fighters, and two Lockheed C-130H Hercules transport aircraft. The Yemen Arab Republic Air Force (YARAF) aircraft markings are the basis of the current roundel and flag, which come from the North Yemen's support of the United Arab Republic between 1958 and 1961.

The South Arabian Air Force (as an air corps of the Federation of South Arabia under British protection) was supported by the British and received BAC Strikemaster Mk 81s, De Havilland Canada DHC-2 Beavers, Jet Provost Mk52As and Bell 47G helicopters. The PRSY/PDRY AF (as an air corps of independent Southern Yemen after Nov. 1967) aircraft markings were a light blue triangle with a dark outer part and a red star in the centre while the fin-flash consisted of a flag in the national tricolour with a blue triangle bearing a red star. This was used as the fin-flash until the unification of Yemen in 1990.

The USSR supported the People's Democratic Republic of Yemen and Soviet Air Force MiG-23BN and MiG-25R were based in Aden starting from the late Seventies. During the South Yemen Civil War in January 1986, the Soviet MiG-23BN conducted airstrikes in support of loyalist forces. Up to 90% of the South Yemen Air Force was wiped out during the conflict.[1] It is not clear if these MiG-23 were ever transferred to the South Yemen control and later to the unified Yemeni Air Force or they always remained under Soviet control and withdrew later.[2]

Unified Air Force[edit]

The Yemeni air force was created in conjunction with the unification of southern and northern Yemen in 1990. Many of the aircraft used by Yemen are from South Yemen and only a small percentage from North Yemen due to the fact that South Yemen was an ally of the Soviet Union during the Cold War and the Soviets supplied them with military hardware. After the fall of the Soviet Union, South Yemen stopped receiving Soviet made fighters. Yemen has used fighters and bombers, mainly in the 1994 civil war to bomb the city of Aden. There were also reports of the use English Electric Lightning fighters in the North Yemen Civil War. They were used by Saudi Arabia since Yemen never owned any Lightnings.

The first MiG-29SMT was delivered in October 2004.[3] Two MiG-29UBs were possibly also modified to SMT-standard as MiG-29UBT. A second batch of 6 MiG-29SMTs and 2 MiG-29UBTs was ordered in 2003 and delivered in 2004-05. The MiG-29s are armed with R-27 (AA-10 Alamo), R-73 (AA-11 Archer) and R-77 (AA-12 Adder) air-to-air missiles, as well as Kh-29 (AS-14 Kedge) air-to-surface missiles. In the first quarter of 2007 another 34 MiG-29SMTs were ordered from Russia.[4] They were tasked for air defense alongside the Northrop F-5B/E/F, the MiG-21 and Sukhoi Su-20/-22s. Ukraine delivered 21 second-hand MiG-21bis and 12 Su-22s in the period 2005-07.[5][6] Yemen planned to buy more MiG-29s from Russia.[7]

War in Sadah[edit]

Yemeni Air Force has been used extensively in the Sadah War against the Houthi rebellion. The Yemeni Air Force has been proven effective destroying enemy positions and buildings. Most enemy casualties were attributed to air raids. A number of accidents have occurred, including one in which a fighter plane accidentally fired a missile and killed more than 80 civilians. During Operation Scorched Earth on 2 and 5 October and on 8 November 2009, three fighter jets reported as a MiG-21 and two Su-22 respectively crashed during military missions. The government claimed the crashes were due to technical malfunctions, while the rebels claimed they shot them down with MANPADS. In 2006, F-5Es, MIG 21s and Su-22s repeatedly bombed Houthi positions all over Saada.[8][9]

War on Terror[edit]

As part of the Yemeni al-Qaeda crackdown, the Yemeni Air Force has launched air raids on terrorist bases throughout Yemen to kill important terrorist leaders. The raids were confronted with anti-aircraft fire. After Ali Abdullah Saleh declared his support for George Bush in the war on terror, America provided Yemen with Military aid. This included the Yemen air force. The USA helped the YAF through training, funds and munitions. They also provided them with Aircraft and Helicopters including 2 Cessna 208 light transport planes, 2 C-130 Hercules Cargo planes, 14 F-5E fighter jets, 1 CASA CN.295 medium cargo plane, 1 Beechcraft super king air, 3 Bell 206 helicopters, 6 Bell 212 helicopters, 3 Bell 214 helicopters, 4 UH-1H helicopters. The Yemen air force benefited immensely from US assistance. The US trained them in providing close air support for Yemeni Special forces fighting against AL Qaeda.[10]

2011 Yemeni uprising[edit]

The Yemeni Air Force performed air strikes against opposition forces to the Saleh government during the 2011 Yemeni uprising. On 28 September 2011, a Su-22 was shot down during a bombing mission north of Sanaa by rebel soldiers using a MANPADS.[11] The pilot ejected and was captured.

On 30 October, the al-Dailami air base, which shares the structures with Sana'a International Airport, was attacked by uprising forces. Different official sources reported two or three fighter jets destroyed on the ground either by mortar shells or with planted explosive charges.[12] The aircraft were loaded with ammunition and combat ready for strikes on the next day. Among the destroyed aircraft, at least one MiG-29 was reported.[13]

Saudi-led intervention in Yemen (2015–present)[edit]

On 19 March 2015, a first air raid against the internationally recognized Yemeni president Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi, indicated that at least some elements of the Yemeni Air Force had switched allegiance to fight alongside the Houthis rebels.

On 25 March 2015, two Yemeni Air Force aircraft, probably Su-22, took off from Sana'a al-Dailami air base, which was under Houthis control, to launch an attack on the Yemeni president's residence in the al-Maasheeq district of Aden, becoming the third time in a week that elements of the Air Force acted against the internationally recognized government.The Houthis sent two Su-22s to bomb the presidential compound in Aden with one MiG 29 flying top cover. As the Sukhois made their first bombing run the Hadi loyalists responded with fierce ground fire but failed to shoot down any aircraft. During this attack, a few pro-Hadi MiG-29s scrambled from Al Anad Air base to protect the presidential compound from Houthi -controlled warplanes.[14]

A few hours later, the Saudi Arabian-led intervention in Yemen began. The Yemeni Air Force did not completely join the Houthi rebels, as most of the personnel refused to take orders from their former enemy. Also the maintenance of the air-frames was mostly halted since the ousting of the Saleh regime in 2012[15][16] and thus, at the beginning of 2015, the situation of the Air Force seemed chaotic with most of the personnel deserted and air-frames lacking maintenance, effectively preventing the Yemeni Air Force to enter in the fight, remaining grounded during the Saudi-led intervention.[17]

Indeed, in the following few days, the coalition strikes started targeting the structures and air-frames to a more severe extent. On 15 April 2015, a Saudi debriefing showed the Arab coalition strikers destroying two Su-22 and one F-5 jet fighters while they were sitting on the tarmac. The F-5 looked covered by a net, while the Su-22s were parked in the open.[18][19] Another picture showing the wrecks of two Su-22 and one F-5 jets emerged on 30 April 2015.[20] On 4 May 2015, evidence of a Yemeni Il-76TD at Sana'a International Airport engulfed in flames emerged.[21]

The fate of the Yemeni MiG-29 fleet remains unknown while the assessment on the actual number of other air-frames destroyed is difficult to establish. As of 2017 the Yemeni Air force after years of warfare and the Saudi-led coalition bombing is inoperable and non-functional. After government troops recaptured the Al Anad Air Base, the Yemeni air force has been rebuilt and have been trained by the UAE. They provide close air support. Houthis operate drones allegedly delivered by Iran.[22][23]


Some YAF aircraft in storage
Aircraft Origin Type Variant In service Notes
Combat Aircraft
MiG-21 Soviet Union fighter 19[24]
MiG-29 Soviet Union fighter 66[24]
Northrop F-5 United States fighter F-5E 11[25]
Sukhoi Su-22 Soviet Union fighter / bomber 23[25] 3 lost in May 2015[26]
Cessna 208 United States surveillance 2[24]
Antonov An-26 Ukraine transport 8[24]
Antonov An-32 Ukraine transport 4 one in storgae
Antonov An-12 Ukraine Transoprt 1
Ilyushin Il-18 USSR Transport 1 In Storage
Yakovlev Yak-42 USSR VIP 1 In Storage
Bell 206 United States trainer 1[24]
Bell 212 United States utility / transport 4[24] one lost in May 2015[26]
Bell UH-1 United States utility UH-1H 4[24]
Mil Mi-17 Russia utility Mi-17/171 34[24] one lost in May 2015[26]
Mil Mi-14 Russia ASW / SAR 2[24]
Mil Mi-24 Russia attack Mi-24/35 14[24]
Kamov Ka-27 Russia utility Ka-32 2[24]
Trainer Aircraft
Aero L-39 Czech Republic jet trainer 19[24]
Northrop F-5 United States conversion trainer F-5F 2[24]

Air Defense[edit]

The Air Defense, once separated from the Air Force, according to the standard Soviet segregation of armed forces, was merged into the Air Force.[27] Up to more than six hundred Surface-to-air missile launchers may have been procured over the time, including MANPADS, mostly if not all of Soviet and Russian origin. 12 Tor missile systems were ordered and tested in 2007.[28] As of 2015, their status is unknown, if ever delivered.

There are about 8 Air defense brigades in the Yemeni air force. 6 of these sided with the Houthis and during the start of the Yemeni civil war, the Saudi-led coalition destroyed much of the systems and bases of 4 of these brigades, but two brigades survived the Saudi-led airstrikes as pro-Houthi army units scattered and hid most of the systems operated by these units. The remaining air defenses succeeded in shooting down two coalition F-16Cs, two Apaches and about a dozen UAVs. A new system built by pro-Houthi air defense personnel, which are originally R-27T air to air missiles guided by FLIR ULTRA 8500 Turrets and launched from APU-60 and P-12 launch rails, these succeeded in damaging two Saudi F-15s. Defensive anti-aircraft gun (AAA) fire was clearly visible at night over Sana'a till mid April.[29]


See also[edit]



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