Like so many other Middle Eastern countries, Kuwait is modernising the combat edge of its air force.
Its elderly fighter fleet currently comprises 31 F/A-18C Hornets and eight dual-seat F/A-18D Hornets that have been in service since early 1992.
They are among the oldest legacy Hornets flying, even though they have been modernised in recent years to keep them relevant.
In recent years, the Kuwait Air Force (KAF) Hornets have been participating in the Saudi-led coalition, which has been fighting Iranian-backed Houthi militias in Yemen since 2015.
The acquisition of 56 new jets – 28 Eurofighter Typhoons and 28 Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornets – means the legacy Hornets’ days are numbered.
In January 2017, the US Congress sanctioned Kuwait’s purchase of the Raytheon AIM-120C7 advanced medium-range air-to-air missiles (AMRAAMs), while 14 Lockheed Martin Sniper ATP targeting pods were ordered in May 2017. Both will be used by the F/A-18C/Ds before being transferred to the new Super Hornets and Typhoons.
The KAF will eventually field an impressive capability to match its allies in the region, who are suspicious both of Iran and some Islamist movements. However, the force lacks any training aircraft as the old Hawk Mk 64 and Tucano Mk52s have been grounded for years and earlier plans to get them back in the air have now been dropped. It means pilots are now trained overseas, in France, Italy, Pakistan, the UK and the USA.
Undoubtedly, once finances become available and the new fighters start bedding in, the KAF will turn its attention to a new training set-up.
Leonardo is offering its T-345 turbofan trainer and T-346 transonic trainer, while Boeing is already promoting its new T-X jet trainer, which was recently selected by the US Air Force (USAF). Undoubtedly, the latter will have the political might of the US Government behind it.
On April 5, 2016, Leonardo (then Finmeccanica) signed a deal with the KAF, worth nearly $9 billion, for 28 Eurofighters. The contract includes 22 single-seater and six twin-seater tranche 3s aircraft, that will be optimised to the latest P3EB standard. They will be the first to be equipped with the Leonardo Air and Space Systems Captor-E air radar, known as Captor-E. It comes after an agreement was penned in November 2014 to develop the new electronic radar.
The P3EB standard also includes integration of the Brimstone 2 air-to-ground weapon, Meteor beyond-visual-range air-to-air missile (BVRAAM), and Storm Shadow cruise missile – with the latter a top requirement for the Gulf regions because of the Iranian threat.
Under the missile technology control regime (MTCR) restrictions, the stand-off weapon is a capability Kuwait can’t acquire from the US Government.
Lockheed Martin was awarded a direct commercial sale (DCS) contract on September 28, 2016 that will see it provide 18 Sniper advanced targeting pods (ATPs), as well as logistics support. Work on integration should have started in 2017.
Ken Fuhr, fixed-wing program director at Lockheed Martin missiles and fire control, said: “This contract marks the start of a successful relationship with the Eurofighter consortium to provide critical targeting capability worldwide. As a new Sniper ATP user, the Kuwait Air Force will see significant targeting benefits, including high-resolution imagery, advanced targeting modes, and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) capabilities.”
Sniper ATP detects, identifies, automatically tracks and laser-designates small tactical targets at long ranges. It also supports employment of all laser- and GPS-guided weapons against multiple fixed and moving targets.
Drawn from Leonardo’s production line at Turin-Caselle, deliveries of the jets are expected to take place between 2020 and 2023. First flight of a KAF Eurofighter should take place this year.
A Leonardo official said: “As well as the aircraft, the contract includes three years of support following delivery of the first aircraft; training for operations with the Italian Air Force; and the building up of infrastructure at Ali Al Salem Air Base, where they will be housed. A complete training package will be created for the academy training centre.”
Development of the Captor-E radar and its integration is the responsibility of Leonardo. The company said it has an enormous amount of potential for future capability enhancements and that, with one of the largest radar antennas of any combat jet, it could generate the most power.
Late last year a Leonardo spokesman confirmed: “The programme remains on track, through a series of flights, with the radar both powered and unpowered, as part of the scheduled programme. The first phase of flight-tests was wrapped up in 2017 and we’ve seen some excellent results.
“There has been some really good long-range tracking results and we have been able to test the radar’s synthetic aperture radar (SAR) mode as well.
“In 2018, we performed a series of high-intensity flight trials with incremental software updates to enable the required capability (P3E standard) to be available for the first deliveries to the Kuwait Air Force.”
After an initial purchase announcement in November 2016, the deal for 40 Super Hornets, was delayed due to the slowness of US Congress approval.
Eventually, Boeing was awarded a $1.5 billion contract in June 2018 to supply 22 single-seat F/A-18E and six dual-seat F/A-18F Super Hornets. They will be the first Block IIIs to be delivered.
The more modern AN/APG-79 AESA radar will provide a huge leap in technology needed for current and future missions.
In addition, the aircraft will also house an advanced targeting forward-looking infrared (ATFLIR) system, joint helmet-mounted cueing system (JHMCS), a multifunctional information distribution system (MIDS), an advanced high-capacity computer system, and a state-of-the-art cockpit.
Boeing’s Alain Garcia, director international fighter and sales marketing, said the older Hornets would not immediately be withdrawn. He also revealed: “The first new aircraft is going to fly within the next couple of months and there will be a roll out ceremony on April 4.
“The first four dual-seat F/A-18Fs will be delivered to the US Navy for testing, which will be split between Patuxent River and China Lake, while the second four aircraft will be used to train pilots. Deliveries to Kuwait will start in the first quarter of 2021.”
Boeing instructors are embedded with the KAF’s 61 squadron, which currently carries out the initial training using the classic Hornets.
Originally, the KAF was intending to sell the bulk of the single-seater F/A-18Cs and hold on to the dual-seater F/A-18Ds for aggressor training, but those plans have now been dropped. Instead, all of the aircraft will now be disposed of but, according to Garcia, that will not happen until all of the Super Hornets have been delivered.
To train pilots for the Block III F/A-18E/F Super Hornet multirole fighters, Kuwait has ordered two tactical operational flight-trainers (TOFTs).
According to a notice released on the US federal business opportunities website on June 18 2018, Boeing will supply one legacy TOFT that has been modified for the Super Hornet and one new Super Hornet TOFT, and will provide training for an initial batch of 26 pilots.
The first TOFT will be delivered to a US location – probably NAS New Orleans – to support initial aircrew training, which is scheduled to begin in the first quarter of 2021.
Kuwaiti pilots have been flying on Italian Air Force FT-339A/Cs (MB339s) at Lecce-Galatina, the home of 61 Wing, since 2014.
They fly around 150 hours on Phases 2-3 (basic and advanced flying training).
Seven KAF pilots graduated last November, and are now flying the T-346 (M346) in phase 4, the lead-in fighter training course.
Pilots are also known to have been flying Alpha Jets in France, at Tours Air Base, and on the 260hp Super Mushshak at the Pakistan Air Force Academy for primary flying training.
Eight Kuwait Air Force instructor pilots are thought to have joined the Italian Air Force’s Typhoon operational conversion unit (4 Stormo) at Grosseto to learn to fly the Typhoon before heading back to Kuwait to instruct new pilots.
Boeing instructors are currently embedded with the KAF’s F/A-18C/D operational conversion unit, 61 Squadron, which is carrying out the initial flying training on the classic Hornets at Ahmed Al Jaber Air Base. It is likely a similar arrangement will continue when the new Super Hornets arrive at Ali Al Salem, and the same, too, with a Eurofighter operational conversion unit being set up.
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