AL-UDEID AIR BASE, Qatar – The Qatari Air Force should receive its first batch of F-15s – the most advanced Eagle to date – in early 2021, a senior service official said Monday.
The country expects to receive six F-15QA aircraft – locally dubbed “Ababil” – out of a planned 36 in its initial delivery, Brig. Gen. Issa al Mohannadi, F-15 aircraft officer for the Qatar Emiri Air Force, told reporters Nov. 26. Six more will be delivered about three months later, with four aircraft delivered every three months or so through the end of 2022, he said during a briefing at Al-Udeid Air Base in Qatar.
Qatar signed eight letters of agreement in 2017 for 36 F-15QA aircraft and related weapons, training and maintenance equipment, worth $12 billion with an option to procure up to 72 platforms for over $21 billion. It selected the F-15 in 2014, and the sale was authorized by the U.S. State Department in 2016, Mohannadi said.
The LOAs were signed on June 14, according to Qatari Air Force documents, just over one week after a coalition of Gulf states, including Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt, cut diplomatic ties and initiated a blockade against Qatar that continues to this day.
The Boeing [BA]-built aircraft will be the most advanced F-15 variant to date, a title most recently held by Saudi Arabia with the F-15SA, known commercially as the F-15 Advanced Eagle and based off of the F-15E Strike Eagle.
Qatar’s aircraft will closely resemble the Advanced Eagle, and feature a Raytheon [RTN]-built AN/APG-82(v)1 active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar and General Electric’s [GE] F110-129E engine, along with a fly-by-wire flight control system and digital electronic warfare suite. It will also include a new large-area display system built by BAE Systems and a new internal wing structure. It is being assembled at Boeing’s facilities in St. Louis, Missouri.
All of these features will be new for the Qatari air force, Mohannadi told reporters. The country currently operates Dassault’s Mirage 2000 fighters, and has plans to procure the French company’s Rafale jet as well as the Eurofighter Typhoon.
Approximately 54 aircrew will be required once the program is fully operational in 2023, Mohannadi said in an emailed statement Monday. Those personnel will be a mix of Qatari pilots and U.S. Air Force embedded airmen, and contractor aircrew conducting initial training under the FMS contract. “There will be a minimum of two USAF aircrew, and up to 10 contract aircrew at the initial aircraft delivery in 2021,” he said.
The goal is for the F-15QA program to be fully Qatari-run within five years, he noted. About eight experienced Qatari pilots will transition from other fighter jets to the F-15QA.
By the end of this year, the Qatar Emiri Air Force will be sending eight new pilots to attend Specialized Undergraduate Pilot Training (SUPT) in the United States, and expects to send eight pilots each year indefinitely. Qatar’s Al Zaeem Mohammed bin Abdullah Al-Attiyah Air Academy at Al-Udeid will also provide a number of pilots each year, that will flow into the F-15QA program. About 400 maintenance personnel will be sent to the U.S. for training, he added.
“These multiple sources provide an excess number of aircrew at various experience levels at the initial aircraft delivery and will continue to grow over time,” Mohannadi said.
The air force plans to build a standalone campus at Al-Udeid to service the F-15 fleet when it is delivered, he added. “We are still in the design [phase] right now,” Mohannadi told reporters. “By 2020 we’ll start building and by 2021, we’ll be finished and ready to … receive the aircraft.”