IN FOCUS: Bahrain in no rush to replace military assets

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Bahrain's armed forces are equipped with a modest fleet of little more than 100 active military aircraft, with this volume reflecting the kingdom's status as having the lowest population among the six Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states.

The Royal Bahraini Air Force's assets include 17 Lockheed Martin F-16Cs and eight Northrop F-5E fighters, plus 32 Bell A-1 Cobra combat helicopters, as listed in Flightglobal's MiliCAS and HeliCAS databases.

Utility helicopters now in use include almost 30 Agusta-Bell AB212 and Sikorsky S-70 Black Hawks, with an order for nine new-generation UH-60M examples of the latter type representing Bahrain's most recent military aircraft procurement. Deliveries to the air force's 12 Sqn have already been made at Riffa air base under the more than $250 million deal, with the US-built type to replace the AB212 in service.

bahrain air force uh-60, anno gravemaker

 © Anno Gravemaker

The Sikorsky UH-60M is Bahrain's most recent military aircraft procurement

Training assets include the F-16D, F-5F, BAE Systems Hawk 129 and Slingsby Firefly aircraft, plus BO105 helicopters, two of which are also flown by Bahrain's navy.

Focused solely on defending national territory - a task made easier by the presence of the US Navy's Fifth Fleet headquarters and several warships in Bahrain - the air force has no fixed-wing transports. However, the Royal Bahrain Flight has an eight-strong fleet including BAe 146s, Boeing 747s and Gulfstream business jets used for VIP transport duties.

Bahrain's long-term acquisition plans have yet to be revealed, but the age of its remaining F-5s mean a process to acquire a new-generation type could begin in the next few years.

If launched, a Bahraini contest should attract bidders such as the Dassault Rafale and Eurofighter Typhoon, currently involved in a battle to meet the future requirements of its GCC ally the United Arab Emirates.

lockheed martin f-35c, lockheed martin

 © Lockheed Martin

The US Joint Programme Office has previously included Bahrain on a lengthy list of possible future F-35 operators

BAE has already delivered 24 Typhoons to neighbouring Saudi Arabia as part of a 72-aircraft purchase, and the UK is reportedly also close to concluding a deal to supply the type to Oman.

Boeing's proposed International Roadmap version of the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet could be another potential option, along with an acquisition of Lockheed's F-35 Lightning II. Although the USA has yet to consider offering the Joint Strike Fighter to Middle Eastern customers besides Israel, the US Joint Programme Office has previously included Bahrain on a lengthy list of possible future operators of the type, along with Jordan, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and the UAE.

Nearer term, airborne surveillance assets could become a spending priority, with unmanned air systems already being promoted. At last November's Dubai air show, Pakistan's Xpert Engineering said Bahrain had shown interest in its Uqab air vehicle, which can carry an electro-optical/infrared sensor payload and remain airborne for 4h.