Douglas A-4KU/TA-4KU Skyhawk for Kuwait

Last revised November 6, 2001

Kuwait is located at the far northwestern corner of the Persian Gulf. It is a little smaller than the state of New Jersey. It is bordered on Saudi Arabia to the south and west and by Iraq to the north and west.

Kuwait is formally a monarchy, with an amir as both head of government and head of state. Members of the royal family occupy all of the important government posts and make most of the important decisions. However, Kuwait is one of the few Gulf states which actually has a legislature, known as the National Assembly. Although the constitution affords the assembly considerable power (at least on paper), the body is limited by two major restrictions: the small size of the electorate as defined by law, which restricts suffrage to only those adult male nationals whose ancestors were present in Kuwait in 1920; and the power of the amir to suspend the constitution and dissolve the assembly virtually at will, which has happened several times. Nonetheless, the assembly plays a prominent role in raising issues of public importance, reviewing and challenging government policies and programs, and responding to constituent concerns. It helps give Kuwait a much more open and public political life than that in most of the other Gulf states.

From 1899 until 1961, Kuwait was, in effect, a British protectorate. A succession of amirs of the Al Sabah family ruled the country, but the handling of its foreign affairs was a British prerogative, and Britain guaranteed the security of the amirate. Kuwaiti forces consisted of the amir's royal guard plus a small domestic police force or constabulary under the British administration. During the 1920s and 1930s, British protection became particularly important in deterring Saudi encroachment and later in blocking Iraqi territorial claims. However, Britain yielded many of its strategic responsibilities to the United States in the postwar period or gave them up entirely. Nevertheless, the British were bound to the Gulf by treaties and continued to remain in the region, but it was clear by the 1960s that they wanted to leave the Gulf.

Kuwait formally declared its independence in 1961. Almost immediately, the newly independent nation ran into trouble when Iraq claimed its territory. The Iraqis argued that the British had recognized Ottoman sovereignty over Kuwait before World War I and, because the Ottomans had claimed to rule Kuwait from what was then the province of Iraq, the territory should belong to Iraq. The British immediately sent troops to Kuwait to deter any Iraqi invasion. British and Kuwaiti positions were supported by the newly formed League of Arab States (Arab League), which recognized the new state and sent troops to Kuwait. The Arab League move left the Iraqis isolated and somewhat intimidated. Accordingly, when a new Iraqi government came to power in 1963, one of its first steps was to give up its claim and recognize the independence of Kuwait.

In the mid-1970s, Kuwait sought to build up its defenses, and went shopping for arms. After a couple of years of negotiation, the government of Kuwait announced in November of 1974 that it intended to purchase 36 Skyhawks (30 single place A-4KUs and 6 two-place TA-4KUs). The US government also authorized the purchase of AIM-9 Sidewinder missiles for use by the Skyhawks.

Douglas was given authorization to proceed with the project on January 20, 1975. The A-4KU configuration was based on the A-4M Skyhawk II that was at that time being delivered to the US Marine Corps. The equipment needed to deliver nuclear weapons, as well as certain classified electronic eauipment, were deleted. Provisions for the launch of Shrike and Walleye missiles were also deleted.

The A-4KU was powered by the 11,200 lb.s.t. Pratt & Whitney J52-P-408 turbojet that was installed in the USMC Skyhawk II. It also featured the larger cockpit canopy which provided a better view, especially to the rear. A ribbon-type drag chute was provided in a housing underneath the tailpipe to slow down the aircraft after touchdown. The arrester hook was retained. The A-4KU also featured the squared-off vertical tail of the A-4M. The A-4KU was delivered with the dorsal "hump" which carried additional avionics.  According to Douglas test pilots, the Kuwaiti Skyhawks with their powerful P-408 engines were the most fun of all Skyhawks to fly.

The two-seat TA-4KU was also powered by the 11,200 lb.s.t. Pratt & Whitney J52-P-408 turbojet. The ordinance capability of the TA-4KU was the same as that of the single-seat A-4KU. It also featured a dorsal avionics hump which was faired into the two seat canopy. 

Many A4-KUs and TA-4KUs were retrofitted with an ALR-45 antenna placed at the tip of the vertical tail

The first A-4KU took off on its maiden flight on July 20, 1976, test pilot Fred Hamilton being at the controls. The first TA-4KU followed on December 14, 1976. At the request of the US government, Douglas set up a training program for Kuwaiti pilots and crewmen at Yuma, Arizona, using TA-4J trainers borrowed from the US Navy Training Command.

All 36 aircraft were delivered to Kuwait during 1977 and 1978. They entered service with Nos 9 and 25 Squadrons at Ahmad al-Jabr.

The Kuwaiti Skyhawks saw their first combat when Iraq invaded Kuwait on August 2, 1990. Some Skyhawks were able to get off the ground and carry out a few desperate attacks on advancing Iraqi columns, but they were unable to halt the invasion. When their airfields were overrun, the Kuwaiti Skyhawks and their pilots were forced to fly into exile in Saudi Arabia on August 4. During the subsequent Desert Shield and Desert Storm operations, the exiled Kuwaiti pilots and their Skyhawks were integrated into the Royal Saudi Air Force, and continued to fight against the Iraqis as part of the Coalition. The Free Kuwaiti Air Force, as the group came to be known, flew 1361 sorties, losing only one aircraft.

After the Gulf War and the liberation of Kuwait, the Skyhawks was replaced in Kuwaiti service by F/A-18C/D Hornets, and the Skyhawks were placed in storage. There were 23 surviving aircraft, and they were all put up for sale. In 1996, a US-inspired effort to transfer these aircraft to Bosnia fell through. An attempt to sell the planes to the Philippines also fell through. However, with United States cooperation, in 1997 Brazil negotiated a $70 million contract for purchase of twenty A-4KU and three TA-4KUs from Kuwait. These planes were to serve aboard the Brazilian Nayy's aircraft carrier Minas Gerais. The ex-Kuwaiti Skyhawks arrived in Brazil in early September 1998 and were placed in overhaul maintenance status for significant upgrading.

Serials of Kuwaiti Douglas A-4KU/TA-4KU Skyhawks

160180/160209	Douglas A-4KU Skyhawk 
				For Kuwait -- Kuwait AF serials 801 to 830
160210/160215	Douglas TA-4KU Skyhawk 
				For Kuwait -- Kuwait AF serials 881 to 886


  1. McDonnell Douglas Aircraft Since 1920, Vol 1, Rene J. Francillon, Naval Institute Press, 1988

  2. American Combat Planes, 3rd Edition, Ray Wagner, Doubleday, 1982.

  3. United States Navy Aircraft Since 1911, Gordon Swanborough and Peter M. Bowers, Naval Institute Press, 1990.

  4. Douglas A-4 Skyhawk Variant Briefing: Part 1, Harry S. Gann, Wings of Fame, Vol 4, 1996.

  5. Library of Congress Country Study--Kuwait