Upon the independence of Bahrain in 1971, the primary security force in the country was Bahrain Public Security, formerly known as the Bahrain State Police. This organisation possessed a small Flying Wing which operated two helicopters.
An all-service military organisation called the Bahrain Defense Force (BDF) was established soon after independence. The BDF formed an Air Wing in 1976, in order to operate two MBB Bo 105C helicopters for liaison and communications duties. A third Bo 105C was later acquired. The BDF and Bahrain Public Security maintained close relations, with personnel and helicopters frequently working together. Bell 412 and Sikorsky S-76 helicopters were specifically acquired for a dual Police/Air Wing role. All flying was conducted from Bahrain International Airport at Manama.
Plans were soon formulated for an expansion into jet fighter operation, but an initial application to the USA for F-5E aircraft was refused by the Carter administration. The incoming Reagan administration took a different view. Bahrain’s interest in the Northrop F-20A Tigershark was welcomed, but the proposed order was too small to justify starting production of this new type and the F-5E was offered instead. An agreement for the procurement of a squadron of F-5E/F Tiger II fighters was signed in 1985, and deliveries commenced before the end of the same year.
In the meantime, in 1984, the Gulf Co-operation Council had agreed to fund the construction of a large modern air base in the south of Sitra island, which would be ideal for the new fighter unit and also available for the use of other GCC members. Unfortunately, economic difficulties in Saudi Arabia – the main contributor to the GCC – caused delays in funding for the project. It wasn’t until the US stepped in with material assistance in 1987 that construction got underway. The F-5s were moved to the new base, known as a Shaikh Isa Air Base, as soon as it was completed.
In 1987, the BDF was reorganised into separate Army, Navy and Air force branches with the Air Wing becoming the Bahrain Amiri Air Force (BAAF). The delivery of a squadron of F-16s from 1990 marked a further increase in the capabilities of the air arm. The new F-16 unit was based at Shaikh Isa AB alongside the F-5s. On 2 August 1990 several aircraft from the Kuwait Air Force were evacuated to Bahrain during the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait. During the subsequent Gulf War, BAAF F-5s and F-16s first flew defensive missions on 25 January 1991 and began offensive operations the following day. The Gulf War ended on 28 February 1991.
A second batch of F-16s commenced delivery in 2000. The new aircraft were equipped to carry the AIM-120 AMRAAM missile, first used by the USAF in the Gulf War. The original batch of F-16s received will be upgraded to carry the AMRAAM also. 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 T.67 Fireflys and BAE Hawk 100 trainers. Following constitutional changes in the country, in February 2002 the official name of the air force was changed to Royal Bahraini Air Force (RBAF).
||Bahrain Defense Force Air Wing established
||First jet fighters delivered
||BDF Air Wing renamed Bahrain Amiri Air Force
||Construction of Shaikh Isa Air Base started
||First F-16s delivered
|26 January 1991
||First offensive missions flown by BAAF in Gulf War
||Second batch of F-16s delivered
||BAE SYSTEMS contracted to establish Flying Training School for RBAF
||Official name changed to Royal Bahraini Air Force
To be added.
No future procurement plans known.
F-16C serial 111 photographed
at Muharraq in 1991 (photo, John Cotterill)
Current — Historical
Aircraft Serial Numbers
Helicopers procured for the BDF Air Wing carried a three figure serial number prefixed by the letters BDF, eg: BDF-761, where the first two numbers represent the year of procurement, in this case 1976, and the last number was taken from an overall sequence which did not reset at the start of each year.
From 1985, a new military serialling system was introduced. This comprised a three-digit serial number without any prefix letters. The numbers are not issued sequentially and feature ‘blackout’ blocks of skipped-over numbers, eg: 152 and 154 are consecutive deliveries of F-16Ds.
Coding system not used
None – Manufacturers designations used.
Current Aircraft Inventory
Table of Current Service Aircraft
All-Time Aircraft Used List
All-Time Table of Aircraft Used
Aircraft NOT Used
False reports of aircraft on order or in service
Royal Bahraini Air Force, Air Operations Centre, P.O. Box 245, Bahrain.
The Royal Bahraini Air Force is divided ten squadrons of aircraft and helicopters, located at two main air bases. Fixed wing aircraft are based at Shaikh Isa AB and rotary wing aircraft at Rifa’a.
Current Order of Battle
Table of Current Order of Battle
Historical Orders of Battle
Table of Historical Orders of Battle
All-Time Flying Units List
1st Fighter Squadron
2nd Fighter Squadron
5 Squadron [Navy]
6th Fighter Squadron
Current Air Bases
Air bases currently used are Shaikh Isa and Rifa’a.
All-Time Air Bases Used List
Air bases currently used are Shaikh Isa and Rifa’a. Prior to the opening of Shaikh Isa, Manama Airport was used by the Air Force.
Military Air Bases Listing
Bahrain Aviation Bibliography – to be added
World Air Power Journal Vol 26 Autumn 1996 p.112-115 (photo feature)
Bahrain Air Force
wikipedia: Royal Bahraini Air Force
Any further photographs illustrating this air arm would be welcome.