Force multipliers in demand

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STEWART PENNEY / LONDON

The six members of the Gulf Co-operation Council (GCC) have relatively modern air forces, but not every country has a national training system, and force multipliers such as airborne early warning (AEW), in-flight refuelling platforms and maritime patrol aircraft (MPA) are in short supply.

Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have discussed joint GCC procurements, and signed a deal with Raytheon for an air defence ground environment. Other proposals for combined GCC procurements include AEW and MPA platforms. Indeed, all GCC members have some form of AEW requirement, including Saudi Arabia, which wants to bolster its Boeing E-3 Sentry fleet. Whether a joint programme can be agreed remains to be seen.

Several of the countries are also viewed as having transport requirements, with the Lockheed Martin C-130J considered lead contender.

For now, however, each GCC member has its own wishlist. Saudi Arabia was a major defence buyer in the 1980s, procuring equipment from France, the UK and the USA. Subsequently, defence spending has slowed. Nevertheless, Saudi Arabia has some significant requirements. The largest single air force procurement should be the 100-aircraft replacement of the F-5 fleet, which was nominally won by the Lockheed Martin F-16C/D.

The country has long said it also requires 24 more Boeing F-15Ss (an F-15E variant). Whether it takes advantage of the continued production of the aircraft following South Korea's selection of the type remain to be seen. Although the country is seen as a possible C-130J customer, it could instead plump for C-130 modernisation programme. Up to 10 more tankers are also needed.

The Royal Saudi Land Forces, meanwhile, has been discussing for some time the upgrade of its 12 Boeing AH-64A Apaches to AH-64D standard, with a potential order for additional aircraft. The UAE is also negotiating an upgrade, while Bahrain is considering a modification programme for its BellAH-1 Cobras.

The UAE's May 1998 F-16 Block 60 selection has driven a number of other requirements, aimed at getting the best out of the new assets. Tankers and AEW aircraft are on the list, but whether either will have been ordered by the time the F-16s are in squadron service is not certain.

At the IDEX show two years ago, the most talked about procurement was the UAE's long-standing MPA requirement, with EADS Casa's C295 equipped with the company's FITS maritime mission system selected during the show. However, no contract was signed and it remains to be seen whether this deal will be finalised.

Qatar's most pressing need is for a training system. It has discussed a deal with BAE and could adopt a flying academy service agreement.