Resinate resident in Kuwait
Doug Pritchard gives an insight into a modern-day Middle-Eastern deployment
You arrive at Ali-Al-Salem airbase at around midnight local - the first thing you learn when you get off the VC-10 is that it's not always cold in the desert at night - in fact it's bloody hot! The next morning you notice that your whole world is a beach (the tide never did come in!).
Us Brits share the base with the Kuwaitis and the Americans of the 386th Air Expiditionary Group (sorry, never did find out what the Kuwaiti Squadrons were). We share the main base with the Kuwaitis while the Americans built themselves a fortress that they don't even let the Kuwaitis in. On Sunday nights their mess hall is full of Brits for 'Surf and Turf' night (sadly lobster tails and T-bone steaks are not my thing as I'm a veggie). By contrast, on Friday lunchtimes you find the Brits' mess full of Yanks eating fish and chips! The Base is large and you really need transport to go round it - in general all British vehicles are required to have at least ¾ of a tank of fuel at all times so if the worst comes to the worst you have enough fuel to make it to the Saudi border.
The Kuwaitis are very strict on photography, hence nothing here but British and American shots. There is a Lightning in the middle of the base, it's okay to take that but not the one on the gate, which if viewed from the right angle all you can see is desert. The no photography rule also applies to the line-up of Mirage F-1s that the Kuwaitis won't pay the French for, so the French refuse to maintain them. It all stems from the fact that the French sold them a package - aircraft, hardened shelters, maintenance etc. We then bombed hell out of the shelters and they were found to be sub standard - if you look at the Tornado shot (right) you will be able to see what a mess the shelters are.
The Kuwaitis fly Tucanos, Hawks and Pumas in the training role, and Super Pumas in an operational roll. Also the Police fly a Puma and several gazelles from Ali-Al-Salem. The Kuwaitis are rather laid back, a trait that extends to the Military. They start work around 05:00 and knock off at lunchtime - one day the station commander asked his Adjutant how many people they had working on the base, and was told in the region on 1,800, but they decided tohave a muster and found only 450. They may have tightened thing up a bit since then but I would not count on it!
The Yanks have their C-130s based there along with some of the army ELINT aircraft based on the Beech King Air (never seen so may aerials on one aeroplane.) Also based there are Patriot missiles and the Predator. Never heard any aircraft so desperate to get of the ground - sounds like a Volkswagen on speed!
Also while I was there we had visit from the UAE AF Mirage 2000s and C-130s.
These wrecks I found purely by accident - we had a new bit of kit outside our office and the boss decided that it need some camouflage netting over it (to hide it from the enemy, not to keep the sun off it). So, they told me to take the pick-up and go down to the dump and find some. Now the dump is just that, full of non-rottable material and a fantastic amount of wood for a country with no trees. Anyway, this was a needle in a haystack job, I'm driving around and I see a shape and think that looks like a Lightning fuselage (or is it just too much sun). I pick my way around the dump and there it was - a T-55 Lightning, no identification marks whatsoever. Oddly enough I had my camera in the pick-up (and it was just chance I'd taken it back to my room to change the film). I look around and what do I see but large portions of Puma, what looks like an engine and the remains of several Mirage F-1s. I have no proof but I assume they are remains from the Gulf War. Carried on looking for the camouflage net (you may have forgotten about it, but not me!), saw a big pile of the stuff and sarchastically thought "Oh good, now all I have to do is hump it in to the back of the pick-up" (temperature is about 49C at this time)! However, I survived to tell the tale!