By Marco Dijkshoorn
Since 2015, a military intervention was launched by Saudi Arabia in 2015, leading to a near-total destruction of the Yemeni Air Force assets. The (then brand new) facilities at Sana’a housing the (again then brand new) CN235M and Bell 212 helicopters were destroyed in a Saudi-led bombing raid on the airport on 26 March 2015. The Royal Saudi Air Force is backed by fighter jets and ground forces from Egypt, Morocco, Jordan, Sudan, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Qatar and Bahrain. Djibouti, Eritrea and Somalia, made their airspace, territorial waters and military bases available to the coalition while the United States provides intelligence and logistical support, including aerial refueling (until October 2018) and search-and-rescue for downed coalition pilots. This Order of battle reflects the situation from before the intervention and will be updated as soon as conclusive information surfaces on the remains of the YAF assets.
The Republic of Yemen is located on the Arabian Peninsula. With a population of more than 20 million people, Yemen is bordered by Saudi Arabia to the North, the Red Sea to the West, the Arabian Sea and Gulf of Aden to the South, and Oman to the east.
Being one of the oldest centres of civilization in the world, Yemen was part of many different dynasties. In the 7th century, Islamic caliphs began to exert control over the area. After the caliphate broke up, the former North Yemen came under the control of imams of various dynasties usually of the Zaidi sect, who established a theocratic political structure that survived until modern times.
By the sixteenth century and again in the nineteenth century, north Yemen was part of the Ottoman Empire, and during several periods its imams exerted control over south Yemen. In 1839, the British occupied the port of Aden and established it as a colony in September of that year. North Yemen became independent of the Ottoman Empire in 1918 and became a republic in 1962. Following the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, northern Yemen became an independent state as the Mutawakkilite Kingdom of Yemen. On 27 September 1962, revolutionaries inspired by the Arab nationalist ideology of United Arab Republic (Egyptian) President Gamal Abdul Nasser deposed the newly-crowned King Muhammad al-Badr, took control of Sana'a, and established the Yemen Arab Republic (YAR) or North Yemen. In 1967, the British withdrew and gave back Aden to Yemen due to the extreme pressure of battles with the North and its Egyptian allies. After the British withdrawal, this area became known as the People's Democratic Republic of Yemen (PDRY) or South Yemen. The two countries were formally united as the Republic of Yemen on 22 May 1990.
Yemen Air Forces (North (Sana'a) and South (Aden)) Air Force
Certainly one of the more obscure air forces of the Middle-East is that of Yemen, locally known as al-Quwwat al-Jawwiya al-Yamaniya. The Yemen Air Force took its first steps around 1926 when a small air arm was established. During the mid-'50's the Imam of Yemen established his own private fleet that was effectively run by the military. In the early years, Russian support of the Imam resulted in the delivery of MiG-15 and MiG-17 fighters, later to be followed by MiG-21s among other Russian equipment. The Northern YAR seeked ties with more western-oriented countries and its allies supported the build-up of an air force. During the mid-'70's Saudi Arabia donated F-5E and F-5B fighters, later to be followed by two C-130H Hercules Transport aircraft. The Yemen Arab Republic Air Force (YARAF) aircraft markings are still the basis of the current roundel and flag, which originate from the North Yemen's support of the United Arab Republic between 1958 and 1961. At first a green star featured in the roundel, which was dropped by 1979. For a short period the fin flash featured a white sword and stars on the red Yemini flag.
The South Arabian Air Force (or PDRYAF) was mainly sponsored and supported by the British and received, among other types, BAC 167 Strikemaster Mk81s, DHC-2 Beavers, Jet Provost Mk52As and a number of Bell 47G helicopters. The PDRYAF aircraft wore markings in the form of a light blue triangle with a dark outer glow and a red star in the center while the fin-flash consisted of a flag in the national tricolour (red/white/black) with a blue triangle bearing a red star, at the hoist. This was used as the fin-flash until the unification of Yemen in 1990.
The Republic of Yemen Air Force (YAF)
After the unification, the YAF continued to operate the mix of western and Russian equipment. Although the current military ties are Russian-oriented, the YAF operates F-5B/E fighters and Bell Helicopters alongside its hyper-modern, Russian supplied, MiG-29 and Su-22 fighters, Mi-171 and Ka-27/28 helicopters. Judging on satellite imagery, open source intelligence and scarce reports from the country, the YAF is able to sustain a high grade of operational readiness. Nowadays, the aircraft marking has been a plain red, white and black roundel and fin marking also seen on Egyptian military aircraft.
As their elementary trainer aircraft, the YAF uses the Zlin 242 of which twelve were delivered by Czechoslovakia. The primary pilot training is performed with 24 L-39C Albatros trainers of which twelve were directly delivered by Aero Vodochody in 1999 and again twelve during 2005 which were overhauled ex-Ukraine Air Force examples. The Fighter backbone is definitely build on the Mikoyan MiG-29 Fulcrum of which a number is upgraded to the MiG-29SMT-standard. They are defending the Yemeni skies alongside the Northrop F-5B/F and the ageing MiG-21 Fishbed and Sukhoi Su-20/22 Fitters. Ageing Antonov An-12, An-24, An-26 and Lockheed C-130s are operated in the short and medium-range transport role while the Ilyushin Il-76 is used for long-haul transport. The current helicopter fleet mainly consists of Russian supplied Mil Mi-8, Mi-14, Mi-17, Mi-24/35 and Mi-171Sh helicopters. The sole Kamov type operated by the YAF is the Ka27/28. The only western supplied helicopters still in service with the YAF are Bell 206 and Bell 212/214 types, of which a number was delivered.