Thursday, September 3, 2009

U.A.E participates in the Red Flag exercises


The elite F-16 pilots of the United Arab Emirates air force are honing their dog-fighting skills with the U.S. Air Force's top guns in the skies above Nevada as the Arab states of the Gulf build up their military power to confront Iran. This is the first time that the U.A.E. has participated in the prestigious Red Flag exercises in which foreign air forces join the U.S. Air Force's elite every year to simulate air-to-air combat and ground attack missions against hostile force.

Traditionally, the enemy was the Soviet Union, but these days Iran is seen as the potential adversary. Israel has repeatedly threatened it would launch unilateral pre-emptive strikes against Iran to knock out its nuclear infrastructure. The United States is seeking to engage Tehran in a diplomatic dialogue but has cautioned that the military option remains on the table should Iran refuse to abandon its alleged effort to acquire nuclear arms. At the same time, the United States in 2007 offered the Gulf Arab states, led by Saudi Arabia, an arms package worth $20 billion over 10 years to bolster their forces against the Islamic Republic.

The U.A.E., which vies with Saudi Arabia for military leadership of the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council, is a key element in that. Its participation in Red Flag underlines the emphasis that the Emirates' military planners place on the Gulf federation's growing air power, and long-range strike capability, to counter Iran's growing ballistic missile strength and its perceived drive to develop nuclear weapons. Previous Middle Eastern participants in Red Flag include Israel, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Egypt.

According to Jane's Defense Weekly, the U.A.E. pilots and ground crews spent two weeks preparing for the exercises at the Arizona Air National Guard's 162nd Fighter Wing at Tucson International Airport. That unit has been training U.A.E. pilots for eight years, and the U.A.E. air force maintains seven F16E and seven F-16F aircraft at Tucson for training purposes. The U.A.E. is using its Lockheed Martin F-16E Desert Falcon Block 60 jets in the air combat exercises that began at Nellis Air Force Base in the Nevada desert on Aug. 22 and are scheduled to end Sept. 2. The main strike capability of Iran's air force consists of an estimated 43 Soviet-era Sukhoi Su-25K Frogfoots and Su-24MK Fencer Ds as well as 24 French-built Mirage F-1Es.

Many of these are former Iraqi air force jets that were flown to Iran during the 1991 Desert Storm war to prevent their destruction by U.S.-led forces liberating Kuwait. Tehran has refused to return them to Iraq. Iran also has 25 aging MiG-29A and MiG-29UB Fulcrums, also formerly owned by Iraqi air force, that comprise its main fighter interceptor force. It still deploys U.S.-built F-14 Tomcats that were acquired during the reign of the shah in the 1970s. But these are no longer considered to be a match for the cutting-edge F-16E/Fs and French Dassault Aviation Mirage 2000 combat aircraft flown by the U.A.E. air force. The U.A.E. is also considering the acquisition of a new aerial strike force of as many as 80 Dassault Rafale multirole combat jets that will give it an even greater punch than it has now.

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