Code One Magazine On-line — Fourth Quarter 2003
Code One Magazine On-line — Fourth Quarter 2003
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This article appeared in the 4th Quarter 2003 issue.

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UAE Air Force/F-16 Block 60
By Eric Hehs
Photos By: Katsuhiko Tokunaga, David Drais, Eric Hehs,
Nick Alvarado And The UAE Air Force

UAE Air Force/F-16 Block 60“Our strategic location demands responsibility from us and from our military. Around forty percent of the world’s crude oil passes through the UAE and our oil production facilities,” explains Maj. Gen. Khalid Abdullah M. Al Buainnain, the commander of the United Arab Emirates Air Force and Air Defense. “We felt this responsibility during the Iran/Iraq war. All of the international air and shipping traffic through the Arabian Gulf was operating very close to a war zone. Later, we were part of the international coalition for the liberation of Kuwait.”

Natural resources as well as geographic location guide the country’s foreign policy. More than forty percent of the world’s oil exports, about thirteen million barrels, is transported by tankers every day just north of UAE through the Arabian Gulf. Emirates leaders and citizens alike understand the country’s strategic significance and the importance of regional alliances and national defense.

The UAE sits on the southern coast of the Arabian Gulf between the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the Sultanate of Oman. A relatively new country, the UAE was formed on 2 December 1971 when the United Kingdom withdrew from the Middle East. Soon after, His Highness Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan became the first president of UAE, and he continues to lead the country today. Sheikh Zayed, viewed by the nation’s people as a founding father, is credited with unifying the seven emirates that comprise the union.

Oil was discovered off the coast of Abu Dhabi, the nation’s capital, in 1958 and in Dubai in 1966. Today, UAE has the third largest petroleum reserves in the world (after Saudi Arabia and Iraq) and the fourth largest natural gas reserves (after Russia, Iran, and Qatar). The income generated from these resources transformed the country almost overnight.

UAE Air Force/F-16 Block 60Abu Dhabi was little more than an island village in the early 1960s. Today, skyscrapers punctuate a coastline manicured with public parks, walkways, and fountains. Sheikh Zayed himself deserves much of the credit for the transformation. He approaches his country’s wealth with benevolence and insight. “Money is of no value,” he is often quoted as saying, “if not utilized for the benefit of society.” The government has used its abundance to establish the basic social, economic, and welfare infrastructure needed for its citizens. Roads, hospitals, schools, housing projects, and social services extend to every village in every corner of the Emirates.

UAE is one of six regional members of the Gulf Cooperative Council, an organization similar to NATO that was established in 1982. The GCC signed a defense agreement in December 2000 in which every member country must come to the defense of any other member country. “We have a responsibility to our friends in the Gulf region,” says Commander Khalid. “We take our international responsibilities seriously as well. UAE is a world partner. We have participated in peacekeeping forces in Lebanon since 1992. We sent some of the first troops to Somalia, including members of our air force. We have had Apache and Puma helicopters in Kosovo for almost two years to support United Nations peacekeeping and peace enforcement operations. Our C-130s and crews provide humanitarian assistance in Afghanistan and finally in Iraq.”

This sense of regional and international responsibility is a function, in part, of Sheikh Zayed’s approach to his country’s wealth. His sense of public responsibility sets a solid example for his countrymen.

UAE Air Force/F-16 Block 60“The country gives its citizens everything free of charge,” Commander Khalid adds. “The government provides free education, health care, security, housing, and electricity. We pay no taxes. Furthermore, our society is very open. Our population travels a lot. So, we realize how gifted we are with the wisdom of our leadership. UAE citizens appreciate what the country has offered them. Young men and women want to give back to the country. At the same time, they keep abreast of regional issues. They want to accept the challenge and defend their country and work for its future.”

Military service is not compulsory in UAE, so the country’s air force and other military branches rely on recruitment and public education to attract new officers. “I would love to see compulsory military service because we are so short of manpower,” Commander Khalid notes. “Though many join the armed services out of a sense of public duty and love for their country, we still need incentives to attract quality people. The armed forces use advertising directed to young adults and university students. We host seminars and exhibitions at secondary schools and universities. Our air force invites interested students to air force celebrations, firepower demonstrations, and air shows. We have an annual UAE Air Force day, and we promote our air force through our annual international air show in Dubai.”

The country’s educational system is also involved in exposing young adults to military careers. To that end, UAE created an air force high school at Al Ain near the Omani border. Students enroll in the school in the tenth grade and spend their last three years of high school in the UAE Air Force. “Students come to the school from all seven emirates and from diverse backgrounds,” says Commander Khalid. “In addition to other subjects, we teach them basic English, mathematics, and science. They also receive a salary and basic military training. They visit various English-speaking countries during school holidays to become more proficient in English.”

UAE Air Force/F-16 Block 60Khalifa bin Zayed Air College
Qualifying graduates of the air force high school end up at the Khalifa bin Zayed Air College, which is also located in Al Ain. Here, they join other graduates from state high schools as well as select students from various UAE allies in the region. Brig. Gen. Omar Al Bitar is the commander of the college, established in 1982.

“Khalifa bin Zayed Air College is the place where pilots are born,” Brig. Gen. Bitar says. “We can demolish a building and start over. But we can’t erase a misguided education. We will live with what we produce here for generations to come. We have to make sure that we do the best possible job.”

Brig. Gen. Bitar, who took over command of the Air College in August 2002, takes that job very seriously. “We are training people to protect our country and to win wars,” he explains. “We want to graduate professionals. We have purchased one of the most advanced aircraft in the world. But purchasing hardware is less than half the equation. We have to create pilots who can operate these weapon systems to their full potential. That is our challenge here.”

UAE Air Force/F-16 Block 60In designing the college’s curriculum, Brig. Gen. Bitar and his senior instructional officers have drawn from air colleges and academies around the world. “We just came back from the Italian Air College a month ago,” Brig. Gen. Bitar explains. “We’ve been to air academies in Egypt and Morocco. I’ve also visited the USAF Academy in Colorado Springs. The USAF Academy is more of a university. It teaches students many subjects. Then only selected students go into pilot training. We’ve taken a somewhat similar approach here by forming an air support training wing.

“In the past, those who washed out as pilots would have left the school,” Bitar continues. “But now we utilize those students. Once students finish their second year, pilots go to the flying squadron. Those not able to fly go to the air support training wing. We don’t want to lose students who are good in academics and ground studies. They can become air support officers, air traffic controllers, meteorologists, and navigators. We need at least five support officers for every pilot in the air force. The UAE Air Force doesn’t need many pilots. It needs good pilots. We prefer quality to quantity.”

UAE Air Force/F-16 Block 60The pedagogical approach at the air college divides each student into four parts that translate to body, soul, brain, and skill. “We want the body to be strong,” Bitar explains. “The soul should be disciplined and ethical. The brain must be aware in a sense that goes beyond rote memorization. We want students to be eager to grasp knowledge, to be inquisitive and curious. Their skills, such as their piloting skills, must be accurate. We don’t want to graduate aircraft operators, pilots who merely fly by the book. We need aircraft manipulators—pilots who can exploit these sophisticated systems and use them to their full advantage.”

The air college is a thoroughly modern facility with elaborate ground-based flight simulators, well-equipped classrooms, computer networks, newly built dormitories, an expansive dining hall, and an impressive collection of training aircraft. The school uses German-built G115TA Grobs for pilot screening. Students then learn to fly the Swiss PC-7 Pilatus and transition to BAE T-63 Hawks for advanced fighter conversion in their third year. The school also trains flight instructors in the Aermacchi MB-326.

“We are in a time of change, a qualitative change,” notes Bitar. “Our equipment and technology is bringing about this need for change. Our tasks and the missions are more complex as well. The air college must adapt to meet these challenges.”

UAE Air Force/F-16 Block 60Current Operations
The UAE Air Force consists of about 5,000 personnel. It operates C.212 Aviocar 100s and CN.235Ms. (The air force has recently ordered CN.295 Persuaders, a stretched and upgraded version of the CN.235.) The UAE Air Force operates a variety of helicopters, including the AH-64 Apache, SA-342 Gazelle, and the AS-565 Panther. The current fighter fleet consists of Mirage 2000s and Hawks (61/61 and 102 versions). The UAE Air Force recently purchased thirty Mirage 2000-9s and is upgrading its current Mirage 2000 fleet to the -9 configuration. The UAE Air Force chose the F-16 Block 60 in March 2000 as its newest advanced fighter.

UAE Air Force/F-16 Block 60 “The Mirage 2000-9 will complement the F-16 Block 60 very well,” says Lt. Col. Ghadair Rashid Al Dhaheri, the commander of the multirole 76th Fighter Squadron. “I have flown the Block 60 simulator. The technology, the cockpit, and the overall capability are tremendous. The pilot will be the only limiting factor for the Block 60.”

Lt. Col. Ghadair anticipates that the capabilities of the Block 60 will significantly affect pilot training in the UAE. “We will need to invest more in training to get the most out of this aircraft,” he says. “New capabilities increase the range at which a pilot must make decisions. Our training must focus more on tasks needed to end a fight at these longer ranges. We will have to think, fly, and fight differently with these more capable fighters.”

UAE Air Force/F-16 Block 60F-16 Block 60
The F-16 Block 60, also known as the Desert Falcon (and F-16E/F in some circles), is the most advanced F-16 ever produced. An internal, forward-looking infrared navigation sensor mounted as a ball turret on the upper left nose distinguishes the Block 60 from previous F-16s. Other distinguishing external characteristics include a targeting pod with faceted windows, no pitot tube, strip lighting on the wings and vertical tail, an air scoop on the forward right tail root, a small exhaust on the forward left tail root, and two other exhaust ports—one on either side of the lower rear portion of the engine inlet. Both single- and two-seat aircraft carry the conformal fuel tanks.

These external differences don’t detract from the F-16’s renowned aerodynamic performance. The increased thrust GE-132 engine helps compensate for the increase in weight and payload over the basic F-16. Internal differences, on the other hand, add up to a huge improvement in capability over previous-generation F-16s and place the Block 60 at the leading edge of fourth-generation fighters.

These internal differences are most apparent in the cockpit, which is dominated by three large five- by seven-inch color multifunction displays. Onboard computers collect and process information from the various sensors and off-aircraft sources and transmit the results to the pilot in straightforward color graphics. The all-glass cockpit features hands-on throttle and sidestick switch controls, a color moving map, picture-in-picture digital display technology, night vision goggle-compatible lighting, and a standard head-up display.

The Desert Falcon has many automated modes, including autopilot, auto-throttle, and an automatic ground collision avoidance system. The electronic warfare system, produced by Northrop Grumman, is the most sophisticated subsystem on the aircraft and provides threat warning, threat emitter locating capability, and increased situational awareness to the pilot. A new data transfer cartridge holds thirty gigabytes of information. A fiber-optic databus handles the throughput and speed needed for many of these systems. The maintenance system is laptop based.

UAE Air Force/F-16 Block 60The APG-80 agile beam radar underpins many of the new capabilities the Block 60 brings to the F-16. The radar, also produced by Northrop Grumman, is an advanced electronically scanned array. The array consists of numerous transmit/receive modules attached to a fixed array that generates the radar beam, which can be directed almost instantaneously. The electronic, instead of mechanical, approach allows various radar modes to be interleaved. For example, the radar can continuously search for and track multiple targets and simultaneously perform multiple functions, such as air-to-air search-and-track, air-to-ground targeting, and aircraft terrain following. The radar vastly improves the pilot’s situational awareness. Additional advantages of the APG-80 include much greater detection ranges, high-resolution synthetic aperture radar images, and a twofold increase in reliability compared to more conventional mechanically scanning radars.

The Block 60 is powered by a General Electric F110-GE-132 turbofan engine that produces approximately 32,500 pounds of thrust in maximum afterburner. The engine is a derivative of the proven F110-GE-129, a 29,000-pound thrust class engine that powers the majority of F-16C fighters worldwide.

The Block 60 is cleared for the full range of weapons, tanks, and specialized pods used on other F-16s. The aircraft will also be capable of carrying the 500- and 1,000-pound HAKIM laser-guided bomb that the UAE has developed. The fully configurable backseat of the two-seat versions can be configured, with the flip of a switch, for training or special missions that require a weapon systems operator.

“The F-16 Block 60 was chosen after a stringent competition among the best fighters available,” Commander Khalid says. “Many factors were involved in the selection. We conducted thorough studies. We wanted to choose an aircraft that offered the greatest capability in terms of our operational requirements, technical requirements, environmental requirements, political support, and technology releasability. Technology transfer and offset requirements were additional factors in the selection.”

UAE pilots flew more than ninety evaluation flights in the F-16 as part of the selection process that spanned six years. Thirty-six of these were flown in the most severe environments of heat and humidity in UAE summers.

“The F-16 Block 60 will become the backbone for the air defense of our country,” says Commander Khalid. “The aircraft has been thoroughly studied. The Desert Falcon has enormous capability. It is a true multimission aircraft. Every fighter pilot’s dream of an aircraft is addressed in the Block 60. We have worked with Lockheed Martin to create a fighter that satisfies every potential operational need and mission. We are very proud of the capability we are getting with the F-16. We believe that we made the right choice.”

Larger Pictures
The F-16 Block 60 constitutes a significant part of a much larger transformation for UAE armed forces. “This transformation is coming in terms of modernization,” Commander Khalid explains. “Modernization started in the early 1990s and was influenced by the first Gulf War. We saw firsthand the capabilities of the US Air Force during recent conflicts. Soon after, we analyzed the operational and technical capabilities our country needed for its own defense. We also determined what we needed to support our commitments for the GCC partners in the Gulf region and to back our regional and international responsibilities. Our findings were presented as a set of requirements and combined with emerging technologies and the releasability of needed capabilities.”

The main drivers behind these requirements relate to population and geography. “Manpower presents our biggest limitation,” Commander Khalid continues. “We have a small population to recruit from for our air force. Geography is our second limitation. We are a small country, so our reaction times are very short. We cannot create and sustain powerful conventional force as can a country with a large population and large land mass. We have to build our forces around quality to compensate for quantity.”

The UAE Air Force has taken a network-centric approach to its operations. The country has determined requirements for air defense and early warning systems as well as for infrastructure related to maintenance, communications, and command and control.

“Our concept of operations is the main driving factor for us, not quantity of aircraft, air defense units, or other systems,” Commander Khalid adds. “Fighter aircraft are elements in a much larger network of forces. We cover the country and all of our airspace with datalinks and secure communications to form the centric network approach in real time. In the past, aircraft scrambled, they intercepted and identified a target, radioed that information back to the base, and then flew back. In the future, our systems for command and control and all air force aircraft and units will have access to all the data from those interceptors as well as information from other assets to get a much more complete picture of the situation. Each aircraft becomes a potential sensor for all other aircraft. Commanders and decision makers will base their actions on a greater and more rapid awareness of the battlefield.”

UAE is evaluating the effectiveness of this approach at the Air Force Strategic Analysis Center, a modern battlefield simulation facility on the outskirts of Abu Dhabi. Here, Blue forces defend against Red forces in simulated attacks carried out with sophisticated force models on extensive computer networks. “We’re using the latest technology to analyze regional threats, to plan our force structures, to make weapon acquisition decisions, and to train the personnel who staff our air operations centers,” explains Col. Waleed Al Shamsi, who runs the analysis center. The facility hosts Middle East air symposiums with other GCC countries as well as with the United States, France, the United Kingdom, Jordan, and Egypt.

UAE Air Force/F-16 Block 60Transitioning To Block 60
Simulation has turned into reality for several dozen fighter pilots from the UAE Air Force. They have been learning to fly and fight in current versions of the F-16 at various bases in preparation for the Block 60. A number of these pilots have been enjoying the US version of desert heat in Tucson, Arizona, at the 162nd Fighter Wing of the Air National Guard.

“The first UAE pilots aren’t training in the Block 60,” explains Brig. Gen. Ronald Shoopman, the commander of the 162nd. The 162nd is scheduled to get its first of fifteen F-16 Block 60 fighters in 2004. The wing will then have a squadron of A models, C models, and Block 60s. About half of the Block 60s will be two-seat versions.

Tucson competed against two other locations for the Block 60 training mission. “When the UAE program surfaced, we thought it was a natural fit for Tucson,” Shoopman says. “The US Air Force looked at Reserve bases, Air Force bases, and Guard bases. We were given the nod based on all the factors considered. Most importantly, we know how to perform this mission. We’ve been working with UAE on the program for four years. But we have been in the international training business much longer, beginning in 1989 with the Netherlands, Singapore, and a few other nations.”

UAE pilots at Tucson come from a variety of aircraft, including the Mirage 2000 and Hawk. “They have been integrated into daily squadron operations,” says Col. Mike Shira, the vice commander at the 162nd. “They help make decisions on deployments. They fly side-by-side with us. We give them more responsibilities as their skills improve.”

UAE Air Force/F-16 Block 60“Our mission at Tucson is flight training, but our actual work goes far beyond that,” Shoopman adds. “We are building capable coalition warfighting partners. We’ve seen the importance of this in recent conflicts. We assist the United States in developing strategic alliances. The fact that certain countries in the Middle East allowed us to operate over their territory or from within it in Operation Iraqi Freedom was tied to the relationship the United States has nurtured with those countries. We are creating a basis of trust between two countries. At the graduation ceremony for some UAE pilots, for example, a senior UAE official said that we made him and his fellow pilots part of our family when they were here. They got to know us as people. He said his perception of Americans had changed completely. Building these relationships is as important as the flight training.”

Engineers and maintenance technicians from the UAE are in Fort Worth, Texas, doing their own cross-cultural exchange at Lockheed Martin Aeronautics facilities. “Our engineers and program personnel have been in Fort Worth since 2001,” notes Col. Ishaq Saleh Mohamed, the UAE Block 60 program manager. “We are here to monitor the program, integrate various systems, and to become as familiar as we can with the airplane and its capabilities.”

UAE Air Force/F-16 Block 60As a Mirage pilot and former commander of the 76th Fighter Squadron, Col. Saleh was involved in the selection process for Block 60. As program manager, he is involved in every aspect of the program. “Our goal is to have everyone completely prepared for the Block 60 as it begins to roll off the production line in Fort Worth,” Col. Saleh says. “I am honored to be in a position to witness the program’s success at such a detailed level. I am looking forward to the first flight this year.”

Maintaining Vision
“We are very proud of what we have accomplished so far, but we are not losing sight of what still needs to be done,” Commander Khalid says. “We couldn’t complete the task of modernizing our armed forces without the support of our military and political leaders. They have an excellent understanding of the issues involved in the modernization process. They listen carefully and they support us. They understand our need for advanced systems to support the country’s defense.”

From the halls of the Air College to the offices in the UAE Air Force headquarters, one message stands clear: Success depends on people more than hardware and technology. “We believe that technology can do a lot for us, but it won’t solve all our problems,” Commander Khalid continues. “Technology is not a magic pill that solves all technical and operational problems. Sophisticated systems have to be maintained and supported. People are the most important resources and assets for our air force. Technology, regardless of how much reach, will never replace the human brain and its capabilities; technology is a means to help us execute our mission, to better utilize our capabilities.

UAE Air Force/F-16 Block 60“We are investing a huge amount in the machines and systems, but we are not losing sight of the human factor investment,” Commander Khalid concludes. “The arrival of the F-16 Block 60 will make a huge impact on our force capability. Some of the cadets at our air college today will eventually fly this sophisticated fighter. We have to prepare them for that exciting and significant prospect. Today we are in a very challenging transformation period for modernizing our Air Force and Air Defense. Our objective is not only to train pilots and technicians how to fly and maintain the F-16 Block 60, but we must form an entire organization, infrastructure, command, communications, and support system to make the most of the air force and its weapon system technologies. I am sure our men and women in the Air Force and Air Defense are accepting the challenges. Their seriousness, determination, honesty, and desire to defend their country will help us achieve success. Insha Alla, if Allah wills.”

Eric Hehs is the editor of Code One.

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