In May of 2007 the 16th squadron was disbanded in favour of the 1st sqn. F-16 airframes already in service with the 16th were transferred to the 1st immediately. At the time the production line at Fort Worth was still producing the majority of the United Arab Emirates Vipers and so the squadron was quickly up to full strength. Pilot training was ramped up with more and more pilots coming back from Tucson, Arizona being trained in the United States with the 148th FS.
These pilots were recruited amongst the most experienced Mirage 2000 and BAE Hawk pilots. However, the UAEAF received a total of 80 F-16 airframes and the force only had a total of about the same size before, a large number of foreign pilots serve with the UAEAF. These are in fact mainly Pakistani pilots and also ground personnel.
UAEAF F-16E block 60 #3038
is taking its position to get refuelled on its way to a Red Flag exercise. [Photo by Elliboom]
Main tasking of the squadron is an air defence mission but also an advanced air-to-ground mission. The block 60 airframes are the most advanced of all F-16s ever build and the only one to date to feature a fully capable AESA radar. Therefore these aircraft are one of the most advanced assets in the Middle East by far.
Although not part of NATO, the UAE sent 6 aircraft of the squadron as part of the Arab League to help enforce the no-fly zone over Libya during Operation Odyssey Dawn / Operation Unified Protector. Deployed to Italy on March 27th, 2011 one aircraft was lost a month after arriving while landing at nearby Sigonella AB. The pilot ejected safely and the aircraft, although heavily damaged after going off the runway, is considered repairable. This was the units first F-16 loss. Although the squadron likely had advance warning, it should be pointed out that the announcement to deploy only came out on March 24th, 2011 by UAE Minister of Foreign Affairs, His Highness Sheikh Abdulla bin Zayed Al Nahyan. The squadron deployed quickly and earned some combat experience. This marked the combat debut for the F-16E/F.