In the mid 90s, the Lebanese Air Force gradually grounded the small numbers of the existing jets and most of the surviving helicopters and thus, became an all helicopter operating force when the first UH-1H Hueys were received from the
US. In the following years, instead of re-introducing the stored mothballed Mirage III fighters into active service, more interest was put on selling them and eventually all 10 were bought by
Pakistan in 2000.
These choices were against the wills of the air force but there seemed to be little that can be done to change the policies then, which were sometimes dictated by foreign powers. This situation affected the operational abilities and the capabilities of the air force and deprived the new generation of pilots from much needed experience and operational flying hours.
In recent years though, the air force has made the introduction of fixed wing aircraft a priority and the need came during the Nahr el-Bared battle to have such a force to an extent that the decade long retired Hawker Hunter jets were put back to maintenance to serve as an immediate solution. As a result, 4 Hawker Hunters were made airworthy by late 2008, the Bulldogs were overhauled and the possibility of re-introduction of the Fouga Magisters were considered.
However, serious interest in having new jet capabilities by the Lebanese Air Force has continued and has led to numerous rumors since mid 2007 till this present day.
One of the most rumored types has been the joint Pakistani-Chinese JF-17 (also known as FC-1) light fighter. However, these rumors have been found to be baseless and have probably been generated by enthusiastic Pakistani fans of the aircraft that keep on seeking foreign success.
The official Lebanese Air Force word has singled out the
US made third generation F-5 fighter through the media. In the meantime, the
US also has expressed assistance by showing willingness to donate old trainer jets like the TA-3 Skyworrier and the TA-4J Skyhawk but both are believed to have been turned down by
Other rumored types have included donations of Saudi Tornados, UAE Hawks and Omani Jaguars. The most significant news related to the air force in the past 3 years has been the commitment from Russia to provide Lebanon with 10 MiG-29 fighters. The promise was strong and was extensively covered by both media and military analysts worldwide. But Lebanon finally put an end to the MiG-29 saga when it was officially announced in early 2010 that the gift can not be expected at this time due to cost issues.
This interest in having a jet force has not shifted the attention to get more helicopter types. The Air Force has made clear that it's not satisfied by having the Gazelle helicopters alone for the attack role and has asked for AH-1 Cobra attack helicopters from the
US. It is also believed that there is strong interest for more utility helicopters like the UH-1H currently in service and other types. The donation of 10 IAR-Pumas by the UAE has strengthened the utility force but it is believed that more is needed for greater efficiency.
Currently, the BAe Hawk (ex-UAE T.60 model) is likely to make way to the Lebanese Air Force in the near future. This may mean the end of the long serving Hawker Hunter force which has been the backbone of the fixed wing jet force for 5 decades.