During the mid 1950s the Imam of Yemen established his own private fleet effectively run by the military. In the early years, former Soviet Union 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 Yemen Arab Republic (North Yemen) approached Saudi Arabia to support the build-up of its air force. During the 1970s Saudi Arabia donated F-5E and F-5B fighters, later followed by two Lockheed C-130H Hercules Transport aircraft.
South Arabian Air Force was formed in 1963 with British support and "sponsorship" operating BAC 167 Strikemaster Mk81s, DHC-2 Beavers, Jet Provost Mk52As and a number of Bell 47G helicopters., After gaining independence in 1967 and the formation of the Peoples' Republic of Yemen (later Democratic Peoples Republic). In the subsequent years South Yemen witnessed a complete shift towards the former Soviet Union and Eastern bloc. From 1971 the USSR and Bulgaria commenced delivering a batch of MiG-21F-13s, Su-20Ms. Il-28 bombers, and several Mi-4 helicopters.
Yemen Air Force (YAF): Present Day
After the unification in 1990, there was a merge of armed forces, the newly formed Yemen Air Force had the mix of western and former Soviet Union equipment. The YAF has F-5B/E fighters and Bell Helicopters together with, MiG-29 and Su-22 fighters, Mi-171 and Ka-27/28 helicopter
As their , the YAF utilize twelve (12) Zlin 242 delivered by Czechoslovakia as basic trainer. While advance pilot training is conducted with twenty four (24) Aero Vodochody L-39C Albatros twelve delivered in 1999 and later another twelve during 2005 (ex-Ukraine Air Force overhauled units).
The combat backbone is based on the Mikoyan MiG-29 Fulcrum, with a number upgraded to the MiG-29SMT-standard. Complementing the Northrop F-5B/F, MiG-21 Fishbed and Sukhoi Su-20/22 Fitters. The short-medium-range transport fleet covered by the Antonov An-12, An-24, An-26 and Lockheed C-130s while the Ilyushin Il-76 is used for long-haul transport.
The current helicopter fleet mainly consists of former Soviet Union supplied Mil Mi-8, Mi-14, Mi-17, Mi-24/35 and Mi-171Sh helicopters. The only western supplied helicopters still in service with the YAF are Bell 206 and Bell 212/214 types.
According to Jane's Sentinel Security Assessment - The Gulf States
Yemen has been seeking to enhance the capabilities of the Air and Air Defence Force through the acquisition of MiG-29 fighter aircraft. Delivery of the MiG-29SMT version began in 2004, accompanied by some MiG-29UBT two-seaters for training purposes. Subsequently, at the end of August 2006, it was announced that Yemen had signed a letter of intent (LoI) with MiG, covering the supply of an additional 32 MiG-29SMT aircraft at a cost of around USD1.3 billion; formal contract signature was then expected to take place in the first quarter of 2007 and the same announcement also mentioned that MiG had won a tender covering the modernisation of 66 aircraft that had previously been supplied.
Commander of the Air Force: Colonel Muhammad Salih al-Ahmar
Air Force Personnel Strength: 3,000
- Combat: 176 (total), 58 (in service, while some in storage)
- Transport: 14 (total), 13 (in service)
- Helicopters: 35 (total), 24 (in service)