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    Al Udeid Air Base: The Largest US Military Installation in Middle East

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    1.0 Introduction

    Al Udeid Air base, sometimes called Abu Nakhla Airport, is a military air facility in Qatar that is situated west of Doha (Location: Al Wakra). In addition to the Qatari air force, the base is home to numerous military assets and coalition forces. The base is important for deepening cooperation with US military forces. Al Udeid Air Base currently serves as the headquarters and logistics base for US operations in Iraq and also includes the longest air landing strip in the Gulf region.

    Without entering into a contract at the time, Qatar gave the United States access to the Al Udeid base in 2000. After the Americans took over as base managers in 2001, Doha and Washington inked an agreement in December 2002 that officially recognized the US military’s presence at Al Udeid facility.

    In addition to housing the 379th Air Expeditionary Wing of the USAF, it also serves as the home base for the US Central Command and No. 83 Group RAF of the RAF. Along with a number of tanks, military support units, and an adequate amount of cutting-edge military hardware, this base serves as the home base for the 319th Air Expeditionary Group, which is composed of bombers, fighters, and reconnaissance aircraft. 

    قطر تبدأ توسيع قاعدة "العديد" الجوية
    Al Udeid Air Base. Photo by Qatar News Agency [source].

    2.0 Organizations at the Base

    The Qatar Emiri Air Force’s primary base is Al Udeid Air Base, while several of its squadrons are stationed at Doha International Airport as well.

    2.1 Group: Al Zaeem Mohamed Bin Abdullah Al Attiyah Air College

    2.2 Airlift Group

    2.3 Helicopter Group

    2.4 Fighter Combat Group

    [source]

    2.5 Combined Air Operations Center (CAOC)

    Combined Air Operations Center (CAOC) logo [source]

    The Combined Air Operations Center (CAOC), located at Al Udeid Air Base in Qatar, commands and controls airpower operations across the U.S. Central Command Area of Responsibility, covering a 21-nation region. It facilitates Global Vigilance, Global Reach, and Global Power, integrating strategic decisions with tactical execution. Comprised of various divisions and teams, the CAOC plans, monitors, and directs a wide range of air operations, including sortie execution, close air support, intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance, airlift, air refueling, and more. Constructed at a cost of $60 million and fully operational since February 2003, the CAOC boasts advanced facilities and technologies, requiring a diverse team of personnel to maintain and operate its systems.

    The CAOC acts as the operational link that unifies and synchronizes strategic decisions to tactical-level execution. It  carries out:

    •  daily combined air and space operations
    • quick response positive control, coordination, and deconfliction of weaponry 

     [source]

    The French detachment at the Combined Air Operations Center (CAOC) in Al Udeid Airforce Base, Qatar, has been recently reinforced by a significant French Navy backups supporting Operation Inherent Resolve.
    Combined Air Operations Center (CAOC)  [source]

    3.6 379th Air Expeditionary Wing

    379th Air Expeditionary Wing logo [source]

    The Combined Air Operations Center (CAOC) at Al Udeid Air Base in Qatar serves as the crucial command and control hub for coordinating airpower operations across the U.S. Central Command Area of Responsibility. Working in tandem with various joint and Coalition teams, the CAOC integrates strategic decisions with tactical execution, overseeing a diverse array of missions including close air support, intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance, airlift, and air refueling. Supporting this mission is the United States Air Force’s 379th Air Expeditionary Wing, operating under the Air Combat Command, which stands as the largest expeditionary wing worldwide.

    With over 100 aircraft and a rich history rooted in the Eighth Air Force’s campaign during World War II, the 379th Air Expeditionary Wing plays a vital role in providing combat airpower and essential functions such as aeromedical evacuation and intelligence support across multiple theaters of operation. Comprising various groups including the Expeditionary Operations Group, Expeditionary Maintenance Group, Expeditionary Mission Support Group, and Expeditionary Medical Group, the 379th Air Expeditionary Wing ensures seamless operations and sustains regional presence while partnering with Qatar and other mission partners for future endeavors. Furthermore, the wing’s legacy of excellence is underscored by its historic achievements, including two Distinguished Unit Citations and the prestigious “Eighth Air Force Operational Grand Slam” distinction, reflecting a tradition of operational prowess and dedication to defending freedom and security.[source]

    Last flight at Al Udeid Air Base
    379th Air Expeditionary Wing  [source]

    2.7 The Technical Institute in Al Udeid Air Base

    On January 13, 2022, Qatar opened the facilities and buildings of the new Technical Institute for the Qatar Armed Forces. The institute offers foundational and specialized courses in the English language, computers, information technology, mathematics, science, and engineering principles, in addition to general engineering training and specialized engineering training in the field of electronics, mechanics, information systems, and cybersecurity.

    No photo description available.
    Emir of the country Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani visits the Technical Institute of the Qatari Armed Forces south of Al Udeid Air Base on  26 January 2022. [source]
    Emir of the country Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani visits Al Udeid Air Base on 11 September 2017 [source].

    2.8 Expansion of the US Al Udeid Air Base

    The Deputy Commander of the Qatari Emiri Air Forces, Major General Pilot Ahmed Ibrahim Al-Maliki, stated in remarks carried by the Qatar News Agency on August 27, 2018, that the growth of Al Udeid Air Base will assist in “receiving new aircraft and systems that have entered service with the Air Force, such as the Rafale, F-15, Typhoon and other aircraft.”

    This action was taken more than a year after the diplomatic crisis in the Gulf broke out between Saudi Arabia and its allies and Qatar on the one hand on 5 June 2017, with Doha accusing the latter of backing terrorism. The goal of the project was to develop residential barracks and service buildings to support joint security endeavors, in addition to raising the quality of life of the forces residing at the air base. [source]

    On 2 January 2024, CNN reported that the United States reached an agreement to extend its military presence at a huge base in Qatar for another 10 years. [source]

    3.0 Missions

    3.1 The United States Forces presence

    Nestled in the arid expanse southwest of Doha, Qatar, Al Udeid Air Base stands as a linchpin of United States military operations in the Middle East. Established through a Defense Cooperation Agreement in 1996, the base has burgeoned into a vital nexus for U.S. presence and projection capabilities in the region.

    At the forefront of U.S. operations, Al Udeid serves as a strategic hub for the U.S. Air Force Central Command and U.S. Central Command. These commands oversee critical aspects of U.S. military strategy, ranging from air operations and logistics to intelligence gathering and command functions. The base’s strategic location facilitates rapid deployment and response to emerging threats across the Middle East, ensuring a robust and agile U.S. presence in the region.

    Al Udeid’s significance extends beyond its operational functions; it embodies the enduring partnership between the U.S. and Qatar in addressing shared security challenges. Qatar’s steadfast support and cooperation enable Al Udeid to serve as a vital platform for U.S. military activities, including reconnaissance, surveillance, and combat operations. Furthermore, Qatar’s commitment to hosting U.S. forces underscores its role as a key ally in promoting regional stability and security.

    As a pivotal node in the U.S. military network, Al Udeid facilitates the projection of American power and influence across the Middle East. Its extensive facilities and logistical infrastructure provide the necessary resources for sustained operations, bolstering U.S. capabilities in safeguarding vital interests and promoting peace and stability in the region.

    3.1.1 War Against ISIS and Recent Challenges

    In recent years, Al Udeid has played a central role in U.S. efforts to combat extremist groups such as ISIS and al-Qaeda. The base serves as a launching pad for air strikes and reconnaissance missions, providing critical support to coalition partners. Moreover, its strategic location enables close coordination with regional allies, enhancing the effectiveness of joint military operations and intelligence-sharing efforts.

    Looking ahead, Al Udeid remains poised to play a pivotal role in advancing U.S. interests in the Middle East. As geopolitical dynamics evolve and new challenges emerge, the base will continue to serve as a vital asset in the U.S. military’s arsenal, ensuring a robust and enduring presence in a volatile and strategically significant region.

    In March 2024, the United States delivered food to Gaza civilians via airdrop by the US military. Soldiers loaded aid onto planes in Qatar at Al Udeid Air Base, a symbol of the deep partnership between the United States and Qatar.

    In 2016, B-52 aircraft launched airstrikes against targets connected to the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, using Al Udeid as a launchpad.

    Al Udeid Base, home to the 379th Air Missions Wing, the Joint Air and Space Operations Center, and the major headquarters of the US Air Forces Central Command, is manned by more than 11,000 soldiers.

    May be an image of 1 person
    On 2 March, the United States throwed food to Gaza civilians via airdrop by the US military. Soldiers loaded aid onto planes in Qatar at Al Udeid Air Base. [source]

    3.2 The British Air Force presence

    Since 1971, the Royal Air Force (RAF) has maintained a significant presence in Qatar, marking a pivotal moment in the early 2000s when it established a permanent base at Al Udeid Air Base. This decision coincided with the onset of Operation Telic, the British military’s engagement in the Iraq War (2003-2011), and Operation Herrick, its mission in Afghanistan (2001-2021). Al Udeid, also utilized by the US Air Force, was strategically chosen in 2005 to support British air operations in both Iraq and Afghanistan. This selection underscored Britain’s commitment to retaining access to vital military infrastructure in the region, solidifying Al Udeid’s status as a crucial hub for British air power projection.

    During the period from 2005 to 2009, Al Udeid served as a vital operational centre for the RAF, facilitating transport and jet support for both Operation Telic and Operation Herrick. The RAF’s deployment included six to eight Tornado gunships and Vickers VC-10s from No. 101 Squadron, equipped with an arsenal of bombs and explosives essential for combat missions.

    Approximately 400 RAF personnel were stationed at Al Udeid during this period, with around 130 dedicated to aircraft engineering and the remaining 270 fulfilling support and operations management roles. Squadron personnel operated on a rigorous two-month rotation schedule, while support personnel maintained varying rotation periods. The base’s infrastructure, including the “South Crown” buildings and canvas shelters housing aircraft, ensured operational efficiency amid the region’s challenging environmental conditions.

    3.2.1 Role In the UK’s Broader Presence

    Moreover, Al Udeid played a critical role as a transit point for personnel en route to Iraq, particularly Basra. RAF-operated aircraft such as the Lockheed TriStar and Vickers VC-10 facilitated troop movements, with Lockheed C-130 Hercules transports conducting tactical operations in low-light conditions, underscoring the base’s versatility and significance in facilitating military operations in the region.

    The RAF’s enduring presence at Al Udeid Air Base exemplifies the United Kingdom’s commitment to regional security and stability. As geopolitical dynamics continue to evolve, Al Udeid remains a cornerstone of British military strategy in the Middle East, ensuring the RAF’s readiness to respond to emerging threats and challenges in the years ahead. [source]

    [source]

    3.3 The presence of the Royal Australian Air Force 

    In February 2003, amidst the escalating tensions preceding the invasion of Iraq, the Australian government announced its participation in Operation Falconer, a critical component of the coalition forces’ strategy. As part of this deployment, No. 75 Squadron of the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) was dispatched to Al Udeid Air Base in Qatar. Equipped solely with F/A-18 Hornets, the squadron’s 14 aircraft were drawn from No. 81 Wing’s frontline squadrons, with additional pilots bolstering aircrew numbers to 25.

    No. 75 Squadron played a pivotal role during the Iraq War, providing vital air defense for high-value assets such as Airborne Early Warning and Control Aircraft, delivering close air support for ground troops, and conducting precision strikes against Iraqi targets. These operations underscored the versatility and combat effectiveness of the RAAF’s Hornet fleet.

    Simultaneously, Al Udeid Air Base emerged as a key logistical and operational hub for coalition forces. Alongside Australian efforts, the base hosted international assets, including Lockheed P-3 Orion maritime patrol aircraft and Lockheed C-130 Hercules transport aircraft. The Hercules fleet played a crucial role in airlifting supplies and equipment to support coalition operations in Iraq. The P-3 Orions conducted maritime surveillance missions, deterring smuggling and guarding against potential threats in the Persian Gulf.

    The strategic significance of Al Udeid Air Base was further emphasized by its role as a staging post for US and UK forces during the Iraq conflict. Central Command (CENTCOM) established its headquarters at Camp As-Saliyah near Doha, highlighting Qatar’s pivotal role in facilitating multinational military operations in the region.

    3.3.1 Expanding Beyond Qatar

    However, as geopolitical dynamics evolved, so did Australia’s military presence in the Middle East. Following the formal withdrawal of Australian forces from Iraq and Afghanistan in 2008, the focus shifted to Al Minhad Air Base in the United Arab Emirates for airlift operations. This transition reflected changing priorities and operational requirements within the coalition framework.

    Despite the operational successes achieved at Al Udeid, questions lingered regarding Australia’s diplomatic engagement with Qatar. The absence of official diplomatic representation challenged bilateral relations, contrasting with the presence of US and UK embassies in Qatar. Speculations regarding Qatar’s strategic outlook and its implications for regional stability continued to shape discussions among defense officials and policymakers.

    In retrospect, Operation Falconer exemplifies the collaborative efforts of coalition forces and underscores the pivotal role played by Al Udeid Air Base in facilitating multinational military operations in the Middle East. As global security challenges persist, the legacy of coalition cooperation at Al Udeid serves as a testament to the enduring commitment to peace and stability in the region. [source]

    4.0 Conclusion:

    In conclusion, Al Udeid Air Base stands as a critical cornerstone of military operations. The base assists the Middle East operations of the United States as well as the United Kingdom and Australia. Its strategic location, robust infrastructure, and enduring partnerships underscore its significance in addressing shared security challenges and promoting regional stability.

    Al Udeid epitomizes the multifaceted role of military installations in contemporary geopolitics. The base served as a launchpad for combat missions against extremist groups and a hub for humanitarian efforts such as the recent food airdrop to Gaza. The base’s expansion and continued presence exemplify the commitment of both host nation Qatar and the stationed forces to safeguarding common interests and ensuring readiness in the face of evolving threats.

    As global security dynamics evolve, Al Udeid Air Base remains poised to adapt and respond to emerging challenges. Its legacy as a nexus of international collaboration in the pursuit of peace and security reaffirms the enduring value of strategic partnerships in shaping the future of the Middle East and beyond.

    Jawhar Farhat
    Jawhar Farhat
    Jawhar Farhat is an ALL source analyst with a Level 6 diploma (CSMP) in Security Management and a master's degree in Military Sciences from the Military Academy of Tunisia.

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