By Marco Dijkshoorn
Oman is a Sultanate situated on the most eastern point of the Arabian Peninsula with neighboring countries Yemen in the South and Saudi Arabia in the west and the United Arab Emirates in the North. The first known settlements in Oman date back to the third century BC. Due to the large quantities of copper in the north, the Magan empire was able to rise. Besides copper, the presence of raising-producing trees keeps the economy running. These raisins were very popular in the Middle-East because of the medicinal and religious applications. The Portuguese occupied Oman in 1506 to be released by Sultan Bin Saif after 150 years of occupation. During the 18th and 19th Century Oman greatly expanded and its rulers widened their political views as far as Baluchistan (now Pakistan), Mombassa (now Kenya) and Zanzibar (now Tanzania). Omani traders maintained trade posts along the southern African coast. In 1913 the then ruling Sultan Faisal bin Turki passed away and the successor which was the son of the Sultan was not accepted as the ruler of Oman by many tribes in the rural areas. Some Imams established themselves as the new rulers. In 1932 a new Sultan was appointed and it was only in 1959 that Sultan Said bin Taimur gained relative control over the ruling tribes. In the years before battles were issues against rebels that declared the Jebel Akhdar region as autonomous. These rebels were supported by the Saudis but Said bin Taimur asked the British for help and succeeded to regain control over the region. Oman signed its independency with the British in December 1959 and about seven years later vast quantities of oil were located and exploited. Despite the huge oil-income Said bin Taimur did next to nothing to develop the infrastructure of the country or its people.
In 1970, the son of Said bin Taimur, Qaboos bin Said gained power through a coup. That same year the official name of the Sultanate changed from "Sultanate of Muscat and Oman" to "Sultanate of Oman". During the first years of its rule, Qaboos utilized the income from the oil-industry to improve the countries infrastructure as well as schools and hospitals. Qaboos however still had to deal with a legacy of his father: the up rise of communists in the Dhofar Region. The up rise was coordinated by a groups that called themselves the "People's Front for the Liberation of Oman (PFLO)" and they were backed by Chine and the People's Democratic Republic of Yemen. Qaboos received support from British, Jordanian and Iranese troops and the PFLO was defeated in 1975. After thirty years Qaboos is still firmly in place and also holds some key-positions in the government. He is the minister of defense, finance and foreign affairs. Who will succeed Qaboos is still ambiguous for he never had children
20% of the oil that is transported to the Western World passes the Strait of Homuz. This is why Oman is of great strategic and military value to the west. Both the United Kingdom and the United States therefore maintain strong ties with the Sultanate. During the 1st Gulf War 3000 American troops were stationed in Oman. During 1981 Oman, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates formed the Gulf Co-operation Council, (GCC). The goals of the GCC are maintaining security in the region and stimulate economic growth.
From Sultanate of Muscat & Oman Air Force (SMOAF) to SOAF
The British had great influence on the military development of Oman. Miscellaneous Sultans used British military expertise and manpower to secure their rule. On 1 March 1959 with British aid the Sultanate of Muscat and Oman Air Force (SMOAF) was established. The first aircraft in its inventory were four Scottich Aviation Pioneer CC1's that served until 1962. These were augmented by a total of twelve Hunting Percival Provosts. These piston engine aircraft were used extensively against rebels during the Dhofar battles. In 1969 the first jet powered aircraft entered service. This was the Strikemaster Mk.82 and it played a major role in the battle of Dhofar. In the same year Oman received its first C-47 Dakota and a second one would follow one year later. These were soon replaced by the DHC-4 Caribou and later the Shorts Skyvan. A second batch of twelve Strikemasters was ordered and troop transports were taken over by five Vickers Viscounts that were bought on the second hand market. In August of 1970 "Muscat" was dropped from the name of the air force and it officially became Sultanate of Oman Air Force (SOAF).
The road to Royal Air Force of Oman (RAFO)
Eight BN-2A-21 Defenders, three BAe111's and a VC-10 were ordered and delivered in 1974. A real milestone for the SOAF was 1976 when the first of over thirty Hunters was delivered to the air force. In that same year the first batch of SEPECAT Jaguars was ordered and these were delivered between 1977 and 1978. A second order of Jaguars enabled the establishment of a second squadron. In the early eighties three C-130H Hercules transport aircraft were ordered. In 1985 the Omani government issued an order with BAe for a batch of eight Tornado Air Defence Variant (ADV). The order was eventually cancelled due to budgetary constraints. In 1990 the SOAF was renamed to Royal Air Force of Oman (RAFO). In 1993 BAe was granted an interesting order after all when four Hawk 103s and twelve Hawk 203s were ordered. The RAFO nowadays is a very well trained and well equipped air force. With over 4000 troops that consist of approximately 600 Brits and an unknown number of Pakistani and Omani personnel. The four main bases of the RAFO are located at Seeb, Salalah, Masirah and Thumrayt. When fully operational, Al Musana'a will become the fifth main air base in Oman. The RAFO has two major trainingsfacilities, namely the Sultan Qaboos Air Academy (SQAA) at the former air base Ghalla and the Air Force Technical College (AFTC) at Seeb.
The future of the RAFO
In August 2002 the order for twelve F-16C/D Block 50 was approved by the US government. Under program Peace A'sama A'safiya (Clear Skies) twelve Block 50 F-16's (8 F-16C and 4 F-16D) will be delivered during 2005/2006 and will be operating alongside the Jaguars at Thumrayt first and will later move to the newly constructed RAFO Al Musana'a nort of Seeb. The locally modified version SC-7 Skyvans (Seavans) that are used for surveillance needs replacement. During Dubai Air Show 2003 the RAFO expressed interest in the MPA version of the ATR-42 and the current transport fleet also needs an upgrade. The order of 20 NH-90TTH's that was placed in July 2004 will certainly give the transport fleet a huge boost. Also during Dubai Air Show 2003 the RAFO negotiated with Alenia Aeronautica for the delivery of an unknown number of C-27J Spartans. This order stil awaits materliasation. The Royal Oman Police placed an order for six AB139 helicopters. These are expected to be delivered from early 2005 on. To enable the grow of civilian traffic to Seeb, the RAFO is building RAFO Al Musana'a, a new airbase 120km west of the capital Muscat.