Such preparedness is thanks to a unique partnership between the Qatar Emiri Air Force and UK RAF, who together established a joint squadron in July 2018 — 12 Squadron.
Right now Qatari pilots are training with RAF Typhoons and Qatari engineers are learning the RAF ways at RAF Cosford. Born out of mutual relationships and shared security interests between Qatar and the UK, 12 Sqn is the RAF’s first multinational squadron since World War Two.
“The two air forces have got a long history of working together, in fact Qatar’s Senior Responsible Officer actually carried out his flying training with the RAF,” says Wg Cdr Chris Wright – RAF OC 12 Sqn.
“And of course, the RAF has flown many operations in the Middle East and alongside the Qatari Air Force on different exercises. But the co-operation has never been this strong. This initiative takes the bilateral relationship in security and defence to a whole new level.
“We both have a shared interest in operating Typhoon to the best of its capability and the best of our ability as air forces, so it makes sense to bring that together under one roof at RAF Coningsby. For Qatar the benefit is clear. Rather than having to establish a squadron from a standing start when they receive delivery of their Typhoons in August 2022, they will be ahead of the game.”
OFF TO A FLIER
Following the announcement of the joint multinational squadron the plans grew at pace. Less than a year later, in June 2019, an RAF-only element of 12 Sqn flew its first sortie. Then in June 2020 Wg Cdr Wright flew the first joint sortie with his Qatari co-commander, Lieutenant Colonel Faisal Al-Ghanim.
“That was quite a milestone — walking out together with my joint commander for the first sortie. We flew common tactics in a common language, flying a very capable aeroplane and pushing it to its limits. That was a huge day.”
Establishing the squadron took a great deal of planning but it’s clear it has already met many of its original objectives.
The first group of Qatari pilots arrived in the UK with fast jet experience but being based at RAF Coningsby and introduced to the Typhoon cockpit gave them a new perspective. ON A MISSION
Already 12 Sqn has deployed to Qatar twice. The first time it went, in December 2019, it was in its infancy and all the pilots were from the UK RAF. A year later the squadron returned.
“Going back there we had Qatari pilots and engineering officers in 12 Sqn badges, plus flying in Qatar alongside their colleagues who were operating with Mirage 2000 and Rafale was huge. We were there as a joint squadron of Typhoon pilots. It was great,” says Wg Cdr Wright.
Both joint commanders say the foundations are now in place with the first six Qatari pilots having been bedded in and there are now several Qatari engineering officers. More recently the first of more than 60 Qatari technicians joined the squadron too. But over the next 12 months the pace will continue.
Wg Cdr Wright says that means a very busy 12 months lie ahead. “We’ve got to get as much knowledge into the Qatari officers and technicians as we can because this time next year they're going to be within weeks of receiving their Typhoon aircraft in Qatar. We will be cementing and building their qualifications, experience, knowledge and their relationships with industry partners like BAE Systems, so that when those jets arrive in August 2022 they're up and running.
“I'm confident the team are going to get there. We've got the resources. We've got the people and we've got the foundations in place.”
TWO FORCES, ONE EDUCATION
The aim is to help Qatar get the most out of the Eurofighter Typhoon platform and therefore the vast amount of the training has been RAF to Qatar. The latter are new to the aircraft and everything goes with it.
They were trained for the same mission sets as the RAF. However, the knowledge swap hasn’t only been one way. The UK team has learned from their Middle Eastern counterparts too, says Wg Cdr Wright. “We are learning from their ethos, their experience and their regional concerns. But we are also learning from their questions. Each time they ask us why we do a certain thing a particular way it forces you to consider every process we use, every custom we operate to, even some of the tactics.
I think that’s a great thing. That's why joint squadrons were a great thing in World War Two. And that's what we're trying to get out of this as well.
The immediate focus for 12 Sqn is the next 12 months but beyond that both joint commanders believe the legacy will live on in some form. Both believe it has cemented the bilateral relationship between Qatar and the UK.
Wg Cdr Wright says: “Once they're off and running in Qatar we will continue to put several cadres of pilots through our air flying training, both on the Hawk in the newly-announced Joint Hawk Squadron, and then onto the Typhoon. They will then go out to Qatar and do their combat ready training.
“In terms of training capacity and relationship between the two countries, I don't see it ending anytime soon because of the immense foundations and relationships that have developed between the two countries at a very high level.”