Yemen set for new counter-terror aircraft

A single CN-235-300M medium-range twin-turboprop transport aircraft destined for the Yemen Arab Republic Air Force has been undergoing flight-testing at Airbus Military's facility at Seville San Pablo airport. Jon Lake reports.


CN-235-300M is the latest transport version of this Spanish-designed aircraft, and is a derivative of the preceding 200/220 series, with a new Honeywell International avionics suite, improved pressurisation and provision for an optional twin-nosewheel installation.

The original GE CT7-7A-engined CN-235-10 was built in small numbers, before production switched to the CN-235-100/110, which introduced GE CT7-9C engines in new composites nacelles.

The CN-235-200/220 introduced structural reinforcements to allow higher operating weights, and there were aerodynamic refinements to the wing leading-edges and the rudder. The new version had better short runway performance, and increased range with maximum payload.

The aircraft will join a growing fleet of the type in the Middle East and North Africa region, with six aircraft operational in Morocco, four in Royal Saudi Air Force service (at least one in VIP fit and an all-white colour scheme), and two with the Royal Oman Police.

Configured as gunships

Two CN-235s, configured as gunships, are also due to be delivered to Jordan. Turkey took delivery of 50 CN-235 transports, plus nine CN-235 ASW/ASuW MPA aircraft, equipped with the Thales AMASCOS (Airborne Maritime Situation & Control System) mission system as well as three similarly equipped CN-235 MPA aircraft with the Turkish Coastguard.

The Yemeni order for a single CN-235 was revealed on 13 May 2011, when Airbus Military announced its first quarter results. It subsequently became apparent that the aircraft was being purchased with funding from the USA.

Section 1206 of the National Defense Authorization Act of 2006 allows the US Department of Defense to use up to $200 million of its own appropriations for the training and equipment of foreign counter-terrorism forces, and which established a dedicated US DoD to fund equipment, supplies, support and training to foreign national military forces that were engaged in counterterrorist operations.

In mid-FY2010, when the CN-235 was funded, Yemen was the largest global recipient of section 1206 funding, receiving $252.6 million, including an estimated $38 million for the CN-235.

Yemen is the frontline in the fight against Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, and the new CN-235 will be used to transport its special operations units, improving the operational reach and reaction time of Yemen’s counterterrorism forces, by day and by night, and even in ‘hot and high’ conditions.

There has been speculation that the aircraft could also have an intelligence, surveillance, target acquisition, and reconnaissance (ISTAR) role, and even that Yemen may have approached ATK to discuss a possible gunship conversion. Pakistan was the second biggest recipient of Section 1206 funding.

Highly specialised units 

The USA prefers to directly fund small, elite, and highly specialised units that are directly engaged in counter-terrorist operations than to provide funding for Yemen’s armed forces as a whole, which are seen as being corrupt and poorly trained, and which are engaged in operations against Houthi rebels in Yemen’s northern provinces, and whose heavy-handed execution (for example during Operation Scorched Earth) might offend domestic US sensitivities.

In addition to funding the Yemeni CN-235, Section 1206 funding was also used to support a $27 m contract which saw Bell Helicopter supplying four commercially designated Huey II (UH-1H) helicopters, as well as a package of spares, and support, including a dedicated team of support representatives including a pilot and maintenance technicians and training for 12 Yemeni pilots and 32 maintenance staff.

The Huey II (UH-1H-II Super Huey) is an upgrade configuration based on the proven Bell UH-1H helicopter. It is fully re-wired and has a new navigation and communications suite.

The aircraft incorporates all-new commercially certified dynamic components, with new main and tail rotor hub assemblies and blades. The aircraft is powered by a 1,800 shp Honeywell T53-L-703 engine (as used in the UH-1J), giving a significant increase in hover performance. The new engine permits operation at higher gross weights and giving lower direct operating costs.