Prior to 1985, the Bahrain Amiri Air Force (as it was called then) operated only helicopters. Once it was decided to operate squadrons of fighters it was opted to buy F-16s. At the time being only the J-79 powered version was offered to the country. Bahrain felt that it would be underpowered with this engine so favored to place an order for the F-5 'Freedom Fighter' instead. Once restrictions were lifted on the sale of the F-16 to Bahrain, they chose to obtain the block 40 variant. On May 23rd, 1990 the first F-16 was delivered to Bahrain. The late emir to Bahrain, Sheikh Isa bin Salman Al Khalifa, declared the newly constructed airbase open and it was consequently named after him. The newly acquired F-16s operated besides the already deliverd F-5E/F's who were operated in the 6th TFS. The squadron received a total of 12 F-16s, consisting of 8 single seaters and 4 dual seaters.
Pilot training started at MacDill AFB, Florida in May of 1989 and were the first foreign pilots trained at MacDill. All pilots who are converted on the F-16 must have 300+ hours in the F-5 with the 6th TFS before they can apply to become F-16 pilots. The plan was to have 24 pilots in the squadron by the end of five years of receiving the F-16. This would become greatly hampered on August 2nd, 1990 when Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait.
Sheikh Isa AB became a crowded base very quickly when almost 200 aircraft arrived from the United States. Ramp space became crowded with A-6E, EA-6B, AV-8B, F/A-18, F-4, KC-10 and of coarse Bahrains F-16s and F-5s. To add to this, 12,000 American personnel were on base.
When Desert Storm started the squadron found itself in a war with few pilots and a major lack of experience with the F-16. Defensive flights began on January 25, 1991 which was eight days after teh war started. Offensive missions began the next dasy. The squadron had managed to get operational in enough time and sortie an average of 6 aircraft a day with no combat losses. The war pressed the importance of the squadron which to this day still trains like it is at war.
Bahraini F-16C Block 40 #101
, armed with 4 AIM-9 Sidewinder
missiles, on a desert airfield. This aircraft was the first F-16 delivered to the RBAF [RBAF photo]
Since Desert Storm, Shaikh Isa AB has seen much American activity including deployments for Operation Southern Watch, Desert Fox and Operation Iraqi Freedom. However, the RBAF has stayed out any of these actions. But this does not mean the squadron is not busy as they have other commitments. As a member of the Gulf Co-operation Council, a six Arab nation alliance, the squadron has the responsibility to be on air defence alert for a region called Sector B. This sector covers Bahrain, parts of Saudi Arabia and Qatari air space. This duty is shared with the RSAF F-15C's based out of Dhahran AB.
Besides covering for the sector B airspace, the squadron also has an air to ground role, but anti-shipping work is left to the F-5s. The squadron is sometimes tasked in the aggressor role for the RSAF Fighter Weapons School as well.
The squadron is equipped with the AIM-7M Sparrow radar guided missile which it received after Desert Storm. So up to then it just used the AIM-9M air-to-air missile. Bahrain has kept its F-16s up to date by purchasing a large range of equipment to outfit their vipers shortly after 1993. Including the LANTIRN system which arrived in 1996. This has allowed the weapons such as the GBU-10 & -12 laser guided bombs and the AGM-65D/G Maverick.
RBAF F-16C block 40 #115
from 1 sqn is flying over some desert terrain in the early nineties. [RBAF photo]