UK Defence Secretary Ben Wallace and his Qatari counterpart, Dr Khalid bin Mohamed Al Attiyah, have announced an expansion of the relationship between each nation’s air forces.
As part of the agreement, announced on April 1, RAF Leeming in North Yorkshire will become the British base for the new UK-Qatar joint Hawk training squadron. The unit will utilise the Qatar Emiri Air Force’s (QEAF’s) fleet of nine new BAE Systems Hawk Mk 167 aircraft, which are currently in production. The Ministry of Defence announcement noted that “the decision to base the new squadron at RAF Leeming represents a long-term commitment to the base, which provides a strategic and operational Main Operating Base for the RAF.”
This will come as a relief to personnel at Leeming, which at present only houses the aggressor training Hawk T1As of 100 Squadron, along with the Tutor T1s of Northumbrian University Air Squadron (UAS)/11 Air Experience Flight (AEF) and Yorkshire Universities Air Squadron/9 AEF. The announcement in the Defence Command Paper on March 22 that the entire RAF Hawk T1 fleet will be axed in 2025, would have left Leeming with only the Tutors in residence, thus putting its future in doubt until the QEAF announcement.
Providing valuable training opportunities for both nations, the updated defence agreement will also see the RAF Voyager deploy to Qatar to periodically provide air-to-air refuelling training for the QEAF’s fleet of fast jet aircraft. The RAF Voyager fleet already supports Defence activity around the world and the Qatar AAR service over the next two years will be part of this. The deployments will be planned to co-ordinate with the UK’s operational and training needs and will benefit the RAF by enhancing its interoperability with international personnel and equipment.
The formation of a second UK-Qatar joint squadron, which was initially announced last year, will provide additional flying hours for RAF pilots and see long-term international investment in new infrastructure and training facilities at RAF Leeming. This will include a Hawk training simulator and the refurbishment of existing facilities.
The new QEAF Hawk Mk 167s have been allocated UK military test serial numbers ZB131 (QA001) to ZB139 (QA009) inclusive. They are the final aircraft to be manufactured at BAE Systems’ factory in Brough, East Yorkshire, which will henceforth concentrate on engineering, ending 104 years of aircraft manufacture at the facility. Final assembly and completion of the Hawks is undertaken at the company’s factory in Warton, Lancashire, where the first one has yet to fly. The offer of a UK base for the QEAF Hawks had been announced on October 14 last year, during a visit to RAF Coningsby by Qatari Minister of State for Defence, Dr Khalid bin Mohamed Al Attiyah.
The collaboration with Qatar has previously seen the formation in July 2018 of a joint QEAF-RAF unit, No 12 Squadron, with the Eurofighter Typhoon at RAF Coningsby, Lincolnshire. This was the first joint squadron in the RAF since World War Two and the Battle of Britain.