Although several news outlets and even a spokesman for the Saudi-led coalition were quick to report on the total destruction of the Yemeni Air Force (Y.A.F.) by the coalition's airstrikes, it now appears that the series of attacks on Yemen's airbases were never aimed at neutralising the Yemeni Air Force, but rather to serve as a warning to the Y.A.F. not to enter the conflict on behalf of the Houthis instead.
The first raid on al-Dailami airbase, which shares the runway with Sana'a International Airport, saw the runway and a hangar housing one CN-235, one Beechcraft Super King Air, one AB-412 and one UH-1H destroyed, not the most important assets of the Yemeni Air Force to say the least. On the contrary, these four aircraft had already been stored as the Y.A.F. was dependent on Saudi Arabia and the U.S. for spare parts, which now refused to deliver them out of fear the Y.A.F.'s assets would end up serving the Houthis' goals. The other U.S.-designed products still in service with the Yemeni Air Force, such as the F-5Es, were on their last legs due to a lack of newly delivered spare parts, and had to be cannibalised to keep at least a part of the fleet running.
This first attack could thus be seen as a warning to the Y.A.F. not to participate in the conflict, and to remain dormant at its airbases instead. If Hadi returns to his post, he will surely need the air force as a tool to strike numerous pockets of resistance in a country in chaos. This could mean the Saudi-led coalition will want to spare the Y.A.F.'s precious airframes as much as possible while simultaniously preventing they enter the war on the Houthis' behalf.
The runway was repaired within a day after the initial strike however, which made it possible for the Yemeni Air Force to take off again. In reply to the Houthis' decision to repair the runway and the fact that the Y.A.F. still continues to move its assets around the airbase, making it look as though they're gearing up for a fight, a second raid was flown against al-Dailami. This raid, flown on the 29th of March 2015, saw Royal Saudi Air Force (RSAF) fighter-bombers targeting eleven adjacent shelters designated to house the pride of the Yemeni Air Force: Its MiG-29s. Footage of the raid (2:09) can be seen below.
However, the image showing the freshly repaired runway of al-Dailami indicates at least six of the shelters were empty instead of housing MiG-29s. Yemen's MiG-29s, numbering just under 20 airframes, are divided between their main hub al-Dailami airbase and al-Anab (al-Anad) airbase, which sees a permanent detachment of a couple of MiG-29s. This means that not all of the aircraft shelters on the MiG-29 part of al-Dailami airbase are actually occupied by MiG-29s.
The Y.A.F. has experienced increased problems with keeping their fleet of aircraft operational; especially the highly sophisticated MiG-29s have suffered due to a lack of funding and maintenance. A mass exodus of personnel not interested in serving Yemen on behalf of the Houthis put a bigger strain on the already fragile Y.A.F. In 2013 only a part of the fleet remained operational, with the others stored in the hangar where they usually receive maintenance, meaning only a part of the twenty shelters were actually housing aircraft. It is likely that the targeted shelters were in fact not housing any aircaft, but that the MiG-29s were instead housed here.
The second raid should thus again be interpreted as a warning seeing as it has clearly been proven by now that the Saudi-led coalition is able to strike any target they deem necessary, but still these targets haven't included Yemen's combat aircraft and helicopters yet.
''Through our constant reconnaissance of Yemen’s territory, we knew that the Houthis moved some aircraft to an airbase outside Sanaa. We targeted them in the past 24 hours and they were completely destroyed as is shown in the video.''
This statement likely acts as a cover for the real intentions of the Saudi-led coaltion, which is to save the Yemeni Air Force from total destruction for possible use in future scenarios. This theory is strengthened by the fact that the Y.A.F.'s assets are still intact, and that the Houthis have no problem showing just that.
As the Yemeni Air Force remains spared by the Saudi-led coalition, it might be set to play a role in regaining stability in Yemen. If the Y.A.F. and the Houthis are prepared to play along remains to be seen.
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