Tunisian Air Force / Al Quwwat al-Jawwiya al-Jamahiriyah At'Tunisia
By Arnold ten Pas
Tunisia has, considering its size, one of the relatively small Air Forces in the region. Tunisia established the first air arm in 1959, after being controlled by France until 1954, but it took until 1960 before the first aircraft were delivered. Eight Saab 91's were transferred from Sweden to Tunisia after the first personnel had done their training in Sweden. The eight aircraft were to be followed by seven more. In 1961 two Alouette 2 helicopters were taken on strength. In 1963 the French government supplied three MD315's and twelve T-6 Harvards to the Tunisian Republic Air Force.
The jet-age in the Tunisian Republic Air Force started in 1965 when eight MB326 aircraft were delivered and the Advanced Flying Training Squadron was established. In 1969 twelve F-86's were delivered from the Unites States providing more air power. In 1973, sixteen A-4 Skyhawks were offered to the Tunisian Republic Air Force but these were refused because of the amount of work (and cost involved) to be done on the (AMARC) aircraft. The ageing Saab 91's basic trainers were replaced by twelve SF-260WT's in 1974. Tunisian Republic Air Force almost acquired ten new A-4's in 1975 but the high cost involved made the Tunisian government to decide to buy more MB326's to replace the F-86's. Two UH-1N and two UH-1H helicopters were taken on strength in 1975, followed by eighteen Italian built AB205's in 1980. Later, at least four AB412's were purchased.
The backbone of the Tunisian Republic Air Force nowadays is formed by thirteen (twelve F-5E and three F-5) which were bought from the United Sates. Also, the MB326 are still going strong with 11sq at Sidi Ahmed. The transport-role has been fulfilled by eight ex AMARC C-130B's and three newly built C-130H's. In 1995 Tunisia was offered eleven ex AMARC HH-3E's. Although it is widely believed the offer was refused, two HH-3E's wearing Tunisian roundels and serials were seen in late 1999. The serials suggest that at least seven were taken on strength. AMARC files show eleven HH-3's to be delivered to the Tunisian Republic Air Force. Also in 1995, Tunisia took delivery of twelve new L-59T armed jet trainers and three L-410UVP's. Latest deliveries are two G222's (2001, ex AMI) and an extra C-130 (2002).
The Tunisian Republic Air Force uses a squadron/flight structure and has four main bases (Bizerte/Sidi Ahmed, Gafsa, Bizerte/La Karouba and Sfax). Aircraft of the Tunisian Republic Air Force are rarely seen outside Tunisia although some visits to Spanish bases of Tunisian F-5's were made in the past years.
In 2010, Lockheed Martin signed a contract with the Government of Tunisia for the delivery of two C-130J. The aircraft, including three years of support, will be delivered in 2013 and 2014 and will be assigned to 21sq, already equipped with eight C-130B and one C-130H. In 2010 as well, hhe Government of Tunisia requested US Government the sale of twelve (refurbished) SH-60F to Tunisia. No further details are known yet, as this is just the formal request for the sale. The helicopters, if acquired, would replace the fleet of HH-3Es currently in use with 36sq.