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Air Force


Flight simulator used in pilot training at Royal Jordanian Air Force Academy

The Royal Jordanian Air Force was charged with the missions of air defense of territorial integrity, close support of the army, tactical bombing, and airlift of troops and supplies. The air force began operations in 1949 as a component of the Arab Legion. Designated initially as the Arab Legion Air Force, the service depended in large part on pilots and other technical personnel seconded to the legion from the RAF. Eventually, selected volunteers from the legion were trained at the unit's airfield near Amman, and some were sent to flight and technical schools operated by the RAF in Britain. Growing unrest in the Middle East soon convinced the Jordanian government of the need to expand the air force's mission to include combat capability, which was achieved in 1955 with a British gift of nine Vampire MK 9 fighter-bombers.

Since its inception, the air force has struggled to develop and maintain a level of combat capability that would be viable against potential enemies in the region. The primary perceived threat has been the superior air power of Israel. The constant modernization of aircraft and associated weaponry essential to afford Jordanian pilots some chance of success has posed a severe challenge.

From the late 1950s through the mid-1960s, the primary combat airplanes of the air force inventory consisted of Hawker Hunter fighter-bombers that were transferred from the RAF but paid for by the United States. During the first few hours of the June 1967 War, Israeli pilots destroyed all but one of Jordan's serviceable combat airplanes as well as three Hunters on loan from Iraq. To assist Jordan in its recovery from the loss of virtually its entire air arm, additional Hunter aircraft were supplied by Britain and Saudi Arabia. In mid-1969, the United States provided twenty F-104 Starfighters to form the first Jordanian fighter-interceptor squadron. To preclude a future recurrence of the 1967 disaster, Jordan installed surveillance radars to cover most of the country, constructed hardened shelters to protect all combat aircraft, and implemented plans for the emergency dispersal of the air force.

When the October 1973 War broke out, Israel refrained from attacking the Jordanian bases and Hussein's air force did not play an active role in the war. In 1974, the United States began deliveries of F-5s. The F-5 was well regarded as a light fighter plane but lacked modern avionics, thus limiting it to daylight, fair-weather combat. Unable to obtain an American replacement for the obsolete Starfighters because of United States Congressional opposition, Hussein turned to France, acquiring between 1981 and 1983 more than thirty Mirage F-1s, with Saudi Arabian financial assistance. Armed with Matra and Magic air-to-air missiles, the Mirage aircraft were an improvement in terms of range and avionics but were considerably inferior to the American F-15s and F-16s in the Israeli inventory and to the more advanced MiG-25 and MiG-29 Soviet fighters in the Syrian inventory.

During the 1980s, repeated efforts were made to include an air defense version of the F-16 or the F-20 in United States military assistance packages, but these were vetoed by Congress because of Israeli objections (see Military Cooperation with the United States , this ch.). In early 1988, it was announced that an order had been placed with France for the purchase of twenty Mirage 2000 fighters and for the modernization of fifteen of the Mirage F-1s. The transaction included an option for the acquisition of a further twenty Mirage 2000s. The cost, estimated at US$1.3 billion, was to be repaid under generous credit terms offered by the French and may have involved partial funding by Saudi Arabia. It was also announced that Jordan had contracted to buy eight Tornado strike aircraft from Britain but, according to a subsequent report, Jordan canceled the transaction for cost reasons.

In 1988 the air force was organized tactically into four fighter-ground-attack squadrons of F-5Es and F-5Fs, two fighter squadrons of Mirage F-1s, an advanced training squadron of F-5As and F-5Bs, a transport squadron, and four helicopter squadrons (see table 16, Appendix). The main air bases were King Abdullah Air Base at Marka near Amman, King Hussein Air Base at Al Mafraq, and Prince Hasan Air Base at pumping station H5 in the desert east of Amman. These bases were all in the north within a few minutes' flight time of either Israel or Syria. Other bases were at Azraq ash Shishan, also in the eastern desert, and dispersal bases at King Faisal Air Base, Al Jafr and at Al Aqabah in the south. The tactical fighter squadrons operated from the bases at Azraq ash Shishan, Al Mafraq, and pumping station H5. In addition to serving as home for the air force headquarters, King Abdullah Air Base near Amman accommodated the service's transport squadron and its liaison and air rescue units.

Training of flight personnel, formerly accomplished in the United States and Britain, in the later 1980s was conducted in Jordan. The Royal Jordanian Air Academy at King Abdullah Air Base provided cadets with both military instruction and an academic education over a twenty-seven month period preparatory to being commissioned as second lieutenants. Initial flight training consisted of 250 flying hours in British Bulldogs, followed by training on Spanish C-101 Aviojets that could be fitted as light fighters and reconnaissance aircraft. Pilots who qualified for jets progressed to F-5As and F-5Bs at Al Mafraq in a five-month course in tactics and weapons employment before being assigned to combat squadrons.

The new Mirage 2000s on order and the upgrading planned for the Mirage F-1s and the F-5s helped to compensate in some degree for Jordan's weaknesses in comparison to the air power of its Israeli and Syrian neighbors. As of 1989, however, both potential adversaries maintained a decisive advantage, rendering Jordan extremely vulnerable to air attack. The main Jordanian base at Al Mafraq was only fifty-five kilometers from Israel and only twelve kilometers from the Syrian frontier. Even pumping station H5 in the eastern desert was only 120 kilometers from Israel and 30 kilometers from Syria. Although the aircraft were sheltered against surprise attack, bombardment of the runways could make the bases inoperative. Radar coverage was being improved but, because of the rough terrain features, gaps remained that experienced Israeli pilots could exploit as attack corridors.

Ground-based strategic air defense was the responsibility of the air force rather than the army. The air force operated fourteen Improved Hawk SAM batteries (126 launchers) that were sited to afford protection to key military and civil targets. The Hawk was a high-quality, all-weather system with reliable target detection and resistance to electronic countermeasures. Being immobile and at well-known sites, however, the Hawks were considered vulnerable to low-level Israeli air attack. Plans by the United States to provide upgrading and mobility packages for these batteries and to sell additional Hawk systems to Jordan had been frustrated by congressional opposition, and as of 1989 no comparable air defense system was being considered as an alternative.

Data as of December 1989

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