Spurred partly by the crisis in Syria, with which Jordan shares a long border, and partly by a need to replace and upgrade aging types, the Royal Jordanian Air Force (RJAF) is in the process of receiving new or upgraded aircraft. At the biennial SOFEX special forces show held last week at Amman’s Marka airport, no fewer than eight aircraft types made their public debuts in RJAF colors.
Dominating the static display was the RJAF’s first Mil Mi-26T2 heavy helicopter, which was delivered in January from an order for four. The T2 is the current-production version with a BREO-26 digital avionics suite and a five-screen cockpit, permitting night/all-weather operations by a flight deck crew of two, instead of the five required to fly the original design. The Mi-26 was initially attached to the RJAF’s No. 7 Squadron at Marka, which flies Super Pumas. However, No. 26 Squadron has been formed to fly the Mi-26s.
On display for possibly the first time outside China was an example of the CH-4B armed UAV, a Predator-like product of the China Academy of Aerospace Aerodynamics, itself part of the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC). An unknown number has been delivered to Jordan to No. 9 Squadron, which also flies the RJAF’s Schiebel S-100 Camcopter and Leonardo Falco UAVs.
Jordan—along with Egypt, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE—bought the CH-4B primarily because of U.S. restrictions on the sale of armed UAVs in the region. The RJAF is reportedly happy with the CH-4B, and is now talking to CASC—and the Aerospace Long March International Trade company that markets its products—regarding the acquisition of the much larger CH-5, which offers capabilities similar to those of the MQ-9 Reaper.
Another debutant at SOFEX was the Iomax/Air Tractor AT-802i from the RJAF’s No. 25 Squadron. The aircraft was originally one of the Block 1 light attack/ISR platforms delivered to the UAE, but when the Emiratis acquired a follow-on batch of Thrush-based Iomax Archangel Block 3 aircraft, the Block 1 machines became available for donation, Jordan being gifted six in 2015.
The aircraft on show at SOFEX was the first of the six to have undergone an upgrade that raises it to Block 1B standard. A new weapons control system is installed and the underwing pylons uprated to allow the carriage of heavier weapons. In Jordan’s case, this adds 500-pound GBU-12 Paveway IIs to the existing 250-pound GBU-58s, and the ability to carry pods for laser-guided rockets in addition to the AGM-114 Hellfire missile. The remaining five aircraft are in the process of being modified in Jordan. Under a separate program, the FLIR Systems Brite Star electro-optical turret is being replaced with the L3 Wescam MX-15Di.
Another Jordanian platform that is being upgraded is the Bell AH-1F Cobra. Twelve helicopters are being modified by Science & Engineering Services (SES) at Huntsville, Alabama, with a Northrop Grumman Integrated Avionics System, as used in the AH-1Z Cobra Zulus of the U.S. Marine Corps. This incorporates a fiber-optic gyro inertial system and two large L3 multifunction displays in each cockpit. The original TSU (television sight unit) is replaced with an MX-15D turret, and the old TOW missiles are replaced by Hellfires and pods capable of firing laser-guided rockets. The BAE Systems APKWS has been selected.
Two upgraded AH-1Fs have been delivered back to Jordan for training, but live-fire tests have still to be completed in the U.S. before the type can be declared operational. It will serve alongside a batch of AH-1Fs that were donated by Israel. Those systems have the Night Targeting System installed in place of the TSU.
Also on display was one of No. 3 Squadron’s two PZL-Mielec (Sikorsky) M28 Skytrucks, which are used for light utility work in support of special forces and Jordan’s Quick Reaction Force. One aircraft has undergone a conversion process that brings it to a similar configuration to that of the C-145 used by U.S. Special Operations Command. This includes additional radios, Iridium satellite phone, cargo-handling system, toughened floor, missile warning system, and countermeasures.
Jordan has nearly completed a total renewal of its trainer fleet, and examples of the three new types were on show. For advanced training, the RJAF has ordered 10 Pilatus PC-21s, the first of which was delivered last August to begin the replacement of CASA C101CC Aviojets with No. 11 Squadron. In the meantime, No. 4 Squadron and the Instructor’s School have replaced their Slingsby Fireflies in the basic/instructor training roles with the Grob G 120TP. Fourteen were purchased, of which two were gifted by the German government, and they officially entered service at the King Hussein Air College in April 2017.
The third new type is the Robinson R44 Raven II, eight of which were bought to replace the Hughes 500D/E with No. 5 Squadron in the initial rotary-wing training role.
Through the recently established Golden Eagle Aviation Academy the RJAF also offers training to foreign air forces. This initially covers rotary-wing training with the R44s, but may be expanded to cover fixed-wing activities at a later date.