UAE’s Mysterious Airbase

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Google Earth imagery has revealed a mysterious, and so far nameless air base in the United Arab Emirates desert near the country’s border with Oman and Saudi Arabia.

Google Earth imagery has revealed a mysterious, and so far nameless air base in the United Arab Emirates desert near the country’s border with Oman and Saudi Arabia.

The unnamed airfield in its current form. Credit: Google Earth

Previously a concrete airstrip, the airfield has recently been the subject of a rapid expansion program. The original runway is now a parallel taxiway to a much longer 3,000 m (9,850 ft.) long, 60 m (200 ft.) main runway. New parking aprons have been constructed or are currently being built.

How the airfield looked before its rapid expansion. Credit: Google Earth

Imagery of the entire base has only become available on Google Earth in the last few days, previously only half the site could be viewed.

What is clear is that the UAE armed forces have prepared this site for fighter deployments and operations. The runway is equipped with arrestor cables at each end in case of emergency while the ramp in the south west corner has 10 sun shelters ready for two fighters each.

Sun shelters for fighters on this ramp in the south west corner of the airfield. Credit: Google Earth

More notable however is the vast new parking area being built on the north side of the airfield. At just over 1,000 meters in length and just over 400 meters wide according to Google Earth measurement tools, the ramp is just marginally smaller in terms of area than the main U.S. Air Force ramp at Al-Udeid air base in Qatar which a quick glance on Google Earth will show that can be loaded with 40-50 large aircraft of KC-135 or B-1B size.

It is possible - given the siting of the new facility - that it could be playing a role in the Saudi-led Operation Decisive Storm against Houthi rebels in Yemen.

What is most telling about this new airfield is its remoteness. Located some 50 miles from the nearest UAE settlement of Al Khis, the airfield is about as far into the United Arab Emirates you can get from Iran. The UAE has long been concerned about the vulnerability of its military sites and the relatively small number of airfields available to its air force. This led to the construction of a new fighter air base called Al-Safran AB near the town of Al-Gharbia, housing at least one Mirage 2000 unit. Al-Safran is believed to have opened between around 2008.

UAEAF Mirage 2000-9s are based at Al-Dhafra and Al-Safran airfields. Credit: Google Earth

No aircraft currently appear on the Google Earth imagery at the new airfield. Of course they may well be hidden in hangars or under sun shelters but the site could also act as a bare-base similar to the concept developed by the Australians for their mainland defense strategy, building airfields around the country provisioned to support the armed forces in wartime.

Other bases which have recently grown include a airfield that Google names as Abu Dhabi Northeast, that now features a 4,000 meter runway having grown from a mere airstrip 2,000 meters long. This airfield now appears to be home to UAE Special Forces flying the Cessna Caravan, the AT-802 Air Tractors and DHC-6 Twin Otters.

The UAE Air Force’s airlift fleet has also been re-housed on a new ramp on the north side of Abu Dhabi International Airport. Previously the fleet had been scattered around different airfields, with C-17s at Al-Minhad and the A330 Multi-Role Tanker Transports (MRTTs) at Al Ain. The move to Abu Dhabi airport brings all the airlift squadrons into one site presumably easing planning co-ordination.

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