Saudi Hawks unveil new Hawk Mk.165; aim to transition types within two years

The Royal Saudi Air Force’s display team, the Saudi Hawks, have unveiled their next aircraft type at a ceremony at the World Defense Show in Riyadh.

Photo: Saudi Hawks / Royal Saudi Air Force

Coinciding with the team’s 25th anniversary, they presented a freshly-painted Hawk Mk.165 – an export version of the Royal Air Force’s Hawk 128 (known in British service as the Hawk T.2). The unveiling ceremony was attended by Saudi Minister of Defense Prince Khalid bin Salman.

The Saudi Hawks currently operate a mixed fleet of Hawk Mk.65 delivered in the late 1980s and Hawk Mk.65A delivered in the 1990s, both marks being roughly equivlant to the Hawk T.1s flown by the Red Arrows. By comparison, the new Hawk Mk.165s are slightly larger (mainly thanks to an elongated nose and marginally bigger wingspan), considerably heavier, and come fitted with a more powerful version of the Rolls Royce Ardour engine.

Their transition to the newer Hawk Mk.165 has been rumoured for some years; the RSAF already oprates numerous Hawk Mk.165s in the training role and has begun assembling the type locally, with the first Saudi-built Hawk being rolled out in 2019. The new Saudi Hawks jet unveiled at the World Defense Show was one of those locally-built examples.

According to airshow organising company R5 Air Displays, who are involved in running the World Defense Show, the transition to the new Hawk Mk.165s is expected to take place “over the next two years”. This will make them the second aerobatic team to fly a T.2-generation Hawk, following in the footsteps of India’s Surya Kiran, who began flying the Hawk Mk.132 (a lighter, lower-cost version of the Hawk Mk.128/T.2) in 2015.

Although the idea for the team dates back to the 1980s, the Saudi Hawks were officially formed in 1998 and made their airshow debut in 1999 to mark Saudi Arabia’s centenary. Initially, they performed as a six-ship, expanding to seven jets in 2014. Since 2011, they have been regular visitors to airshows in Europe, in addition to performing at events acoss the Middle East.

The team has often been compared to the Red Arrows, partly because of the similar aircraft type that they operate, but also because ex-Red Arrows pilots have been involved in training and supervising the team, meaning that the two displays share similar manoeuvres and a familiar flying style.

This week, the Saudi Hawks have been participating in the flying display at the World Defense Show, held at a purpose-built airport just outside Riyadh, with their existing Hawk Mk.65/Mk.65A fleet. Running from the 4th-8th February, the World Defense Show is a relatively new Saudi aerospace trade event currently in its second edition; this year’s flying display also includes a Pakistani JF-17A Thunder, the Turkish Stars and China’s August 1st/Ba Yi aerobatic team, along with various other assets from the RSAF. It is not open to the general public.