Recently acquired satellite imagery suggests the U.K.’s Royal Air Force Raytheon Sentinel R-1 Airborne Stand-Off Radar (ASTOR) surveillance aircraft have departed Oman’s Al Musanah airbase. Their departure may signal the execution of pending upgrades. The RAF is looking to the platform to perform the maritime surveillance mission.
Alternatively, the aircraft may have relocated closer to Iraq and Syria in further support of Operation Shader, the U.K.’s effort fighting the Islamic State terrorist group. The U.K. already has a Sentinel deployed to RAF Akrotiri, where it reportedly flies three missions per week. The ASTOR are currently equipped with the DB-110 sensor featuring dual modes for Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) and Ground Moving Target Indicator (GMTI).
The Bombardier Global Express-derived aircraft have been operating from Al Musanah since at least 2012. From there, they supported operations in Afghanistan and represented the U.K.’s contribution for the NATO ground surveillance program. With new upgrades, it will be interesting to see if they return to the airbase as it’s located on the Gulf of Oman facing Iran. It’s an area of operations where the Iranian Navy is hoping to expand its presence.
Previously, the aircraft were slated to retire in 2018, extended from 2015. However, the U.K. updated the Strategic Defense Security Review in November which revised the R1’s retirement now sometime in the next decade, probably 2025.
In the meantime, Al Musanah remains part of the U.S. long range basing strategy, according to publicly available project documents. In fact, the Royal Air Force of Oman has designated the south side of the runway as a future development area for both U.S. and U.K. forces. Recent construction activity includes the completion of a 38,000 square meter aircraft apron with fuel storage and dispensing facilities as well as a 3,000 m parallel taxiway. Both were operational on the south side of the runway by late 2014, according to satellite imagery.
The airbase, constructed since 2007, features a 4,000 meter runway which can accommodate aircraft as large as the Lockheed Martin C-5 Galaxy strategic airlifter. Additional areas of the airbase also appear to be under construction.
The U.S. and Oman signed the first Base Access Agreement back in 1980.