April 21, 2016

UAE AT-802 light strike turboprops flying out of Saudi airbase


The UAE Air Force & Air Defence (UAE AF & AD) has been operating its IOMAX AT-802 Border Patrol Aircraft (BPA) light strike turboprops out of Jizan Air Base in southern Saudi Arabia, IHS Jane's has learned.

Satellite imagery taken by Airbus Defence and Space towards the end of March shows four AT-802 aircraft parked at the air base, where the UAE AF & AD appears to have its own exclusive apron for the launching and recovery of aircraft for combat operations in Yemen.

While the UAE AF & AD has not commented on its mission in Yemen, IHS Jane's sources state that 12 AT-802 Block 2 BPAs are flying combat sorties under the auspices of the Saudi-led Operation 'Restoring Hope' (previously Operation 'Decisive Storm'), though it is not clear if all of these are being conducted out of Jizan Air Base. Images and footage have previously been released showing UAE AF & AD AT-802s at Al-Anad Air Base in southern Yemen also.

Operated by the UAE AF & AD's Joint Aviation Command as a special forces asset, the AT-802's rugged design (it is based on an Air Tractor crop sprayer) and long range and loiter time make it well suited to low-intensity counter insurgency (COIN) missions. Its involvement in Yemen is interesting as that theatre has the hallmarks of a more conventional conflict as many Yemeni military units have allied themselves with the Houthi forces.

With six underwing hardpoints (which can be doubled-up with dual racks/launchers) the aircraft can carry a large and varied weapons load which includes a podded GAU-19B 12.7 mm (.50 calibre) Gatling gun; GBU-12/58 precision-guided bombs; AGM-114 Hellfire missiles; and Cirit guided rockets. It also comes equipped with a podded electro-optic/infrared (EO/IR) sensor turret for targeting and intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR).

Though the AT-802 is provisioned to carry machine guns the UAE AF & AD typically does not fit them, preferring instead to employ the aircraft's weapon systems from stand-off ranges that keep it clear of most small arms and shoulder-launched air defence systems.

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