In a deal likely to help cement the US’s presence in the Persian Gulf, hundreds of Qatari nationals are poised to move to Idaho. Qatar is in the process of purchasing 36 new F-15QAs and all the accompanying support equipment, as well as infrastructure to train pilots and maintenance personnel, and it is all likely to happen in Mountain Home, Idaho.
Upgrades, People, Upgrades
The $12 billion deal is part of Qatar’s desire to upgrade its own Air Force. Qatar already buys aircraft from the US, and flies the C-17 Globemaster III , C-130 Hercules, and AH-64 Apache. In 2016, the Qatari government reached a deal with the American government and Boeing to procure up to 72 new, F-15QA variants. 36 have been committed to, with an option to purchase the remaining 36. The QA variant is unique to the Qatari Air Force, but is similar to the F-15EX rolling off the line and into the hands of US pilots.
Part of the deal to purchase these upgraded F-15s is “cradle-to-marriage” support. “Cradle-to-marriage” because once the Qatari Air Force has been trained on operations and maintenance, support roles are handed over, and the jet life-cycle becomes solely a Qatari responsibility. The initial contract sets a ten-year timetable to equip, train, and gain proficiency on the new airframe. Active-duty USAF members will be part of the stand-up of the training wing at Mountain Home AFB.
Have Gun, Will Travel
Training foreign national military members in the US is not a new concept. Mountain Home is currently the home of the 428th Fighter Squadron, a squadron dedicated to training Republic of Singapore Air Force F-15SG pilots, weapons system officers, and ground maintenance personnel. This Singapore detachment is one of many across the US under the Peace Carvin program. The detachment currently at Mountain Home, known as Peace Carvin V, celebrated 10 years at Mountain Home in 2019.
Holloman Air Force Base in New Mexico played host to German nationals for over twenty years as part of the German Air Force Tactical Training Center. From 1992 to 2019, the Luftwaffe trained Panavia Tornado operators at Holloman, providing advanced tactics, and operating a fighter instructor course. The German government ended the training program in 2019. US officials regularly invite or allow foreign nationals the opportunity to train alongside US forces. NATO allies benefit from training with their US counterparts, and the US government does not have to foot the bill of forward-basing.
It will be interesting to see how the Qatari nationals will adapt to the area. According to WeatherSpark, Mountain Home averages 3.5 inches of snow in December, with temps in the 20s. In contrast, Doha, Qatar averages 0.0 inches of snow, and temps in the 60s, at least in December. Summer temperatures approach “OH MY GOD, THIS IS AN AFFRONT TO THE ALMIGHTY!!” Anyone who has visited Qatar knows the region is flat, dusty, and brown. Visitors to Mountain Home recognize dusty and brown, but there are not a lot of flat places in Idaho.
Another concern may be the legal agreements in place for this program. Qatar operates its government under Sharia Law, anathema to a government committed to the separation of church and state. When civil or criminal situations occur, what legal system will the offender be prosecuted under? US law is the obvious answer, but with the amount of money changing hands, and the US’s continuing interests in the Middle East, that one is a toss-up. International scandal, or quiet deportation? Considering the wealth of some of the pilot candidates (Qatar is one of the wealthiest countries in the world), or their political or royal ties, and the ramifications are difficult to understand.
The deal has not been finalized, and there is no infrastructure currently in place. New housing will have to be built, in the form of dormitories and family units. Public lands around Mountain Home have been used for decades for training, and the contracts in place with the Bureau of Land Management would have to be extended. The AF is conducting an environmental analysis to determine the environmental impact of expansion would be. That report is expected to be complete in late-February, and SECAF will make a determination soon after. If approved, hundreds of new faces, and uniforms, will soon be seen in and around Mountain Home.