After roughly a decade of F-16 flight and maintenance training with the Arizona Air National Guard, the United Arab Emirates Air Force and Air Defense and the 162nd Fighter Wing at Tucson International Airport, Arizona, celebrated the successful conclusion of their formal training relationship on 20 October 2010.
Emirati and American Airmen gathered on the flightline to bid farewell to five UAE-owned F-16E/F Block 60 Desert Falcons as they took off for home. Eight remaining fighters and additional support equipment are scheduled to depart by December.
"It's been an outstanding relationship between the UAE Air Force, the US Air Force, the Guard, the 162nd Fighter Wing, and also Lockheed Martin and General Electric. With that team we put together a great program and we trained more than 100 UAE pilots in the process," said Lt. Col. Dan Grimwood, F-16 instructor pilot and UAE program manager.
The UAE partnership with the 162nd began in 1998 with initial planning and coordination. Soon after, the first pilots began training in US-owned fighters with US instructors. In 2004, Lockheed Martin delivered to Tucson the first UAE-purchased Block 60s, the most advanced F-16s ever built.
The Desert Falcon's most notable characteristics include conformal fuel tanks mounted on the top of its fuselage, digital color screens in the cockpit, and a powerful engine to compensate for the jet's increase in weight.
"The F-16E Block 60 is a generation 4.5 fighter," said Grimwood. "Basically it's an airplane that was custom made for the UAE. It has the biggest engine that's in any F-16. It has a glass cockpit and an avionics set up that is a real joy to fly. I've flown many blocks of the F-16 and this is by far my favorite version."
As a designated international training wing, members of the 162nd are accustomed to working in a multicultural environment. According to maintenance officer Lt. Col. Fausto Padilla, the UAE program is as much about building a partnership as it is about building capability.
"For the US maintainer it's been an eye-opening experience to see a different culture and how things work outside the gates in other parts of the world. There have been opportunities to learn from them because they bring so much knowledge and perspective to the table," Padilla said.
"Working with the UAE has given us a better understanding of their culture and people, and it has also helped them to understand us. I think understanding is the first step to developing strong partnerships."
UAE Air Force maintenance officer 1st Lt. Ibrahim Almarashda said he made many friends during his time with the Guard and will miss the camaraderie.
"The pilots are like my brothers," he said. "Over here we work together, eat together, and do everything together. I hope to see them again."
The UAE Air Force will now train its personnel in-country with its own cadre of instructors. The capability of the UAE Air Force was tested in August 2009 when it successfully participated in a Red exercise for the first time. Red Flag is the advanced training exercise at Nellis AFB, Nevada, that exposes US and partner nation air force units to challenging and realistic aerial combat scenarios.
Arizona Guard pilots and maintainers involved with the UAE will soon transition to training Royal Netherland's Air Force pilots, a new program scheduled to begin in December.
The Dutch plan to base fourteen of their F-16s at Tucson to participate in basic F-16 training as well as advanced courses such as flight lead upgrade and instructor pilot certification. The incoming Dutch aircraft are Mid-Life Update F-16s.
"The conversion from the Block 60 to the MLU will require some training for us," said Padilla, "but we're ready to welcome our Dutch friends as we say goodbye to our UAE friends. We wish them well."