The UAE is in no immediate hurry to acquire a new fighter, although it is anxious to fully contribute to the security of the Gulf countries, according to Major General (ret.) Khaled Abdullah Al Bu-Ainnain, former commander of the UAE Air Force. Khaled told AIN here yesterday that, “it takes years to negotiate a new fighter contract.” His comments will dampen expectations of a near-term order or MoU for the Eurofighter Typhoon that have been raised by the British diplomatic and industrial offensive here this week.
Following the flying visit by UK Prime Minister David Cameron last Saturday, defense secretary Philip Hammond and defense procurement minister Philip Dunne both visited the Dubai Air Show to bolster the Typhoon sales effort and underline the UK’s commitment to boosting defense and industrial ties both here and in the wider Gulf region. Dunne told journalists here yesterday that the UK was, “pleased to be invited to participate in the UAE competition.” But he also noted that, “any fast jet purchase is a lengthy process.”
Khaled told AIN that, “the UAE has excellent defense and commercial relationships with both the UK and France.” But the UK “has come with an industrial program,” he added. Hammond told journalists here Sunday that the UK was building partnerships and having “comprehensive discussions with the UAE across a whole range of technologies.” He declined to elaborate, except to note that the talks were not about simple equipment deals.
Throughout this week’s British charm offensive, the French have maintained a diplomatic silence. Nobody from Dassault or the rest of Team Rafale was prepared to comment on-the-record to AIN. French defense minister Jean-Yves Le Drian visited the show Sunday, but his diary of meetings with UAE officials was not disclosed. French media reported that he met here with the Saudi vice-minister of defense, Prince Salman bin Sultan.
Le Drian flew on to Qatar–another country where the Eurofighter and the Rafale are in competition, along with American warplanes. Meanwhile, Hammond disclosed that he had met here with the King of Bahrain, and enjoyed “fruitful discussions…we hope that Bahrain will decide soon to join the Typhoon family.”
It has been reported that Saudi Arabia would fund any Typhoon purchase by Bahrain, and that the Kingdom has been providing interim funding for two upgrades to the Typhoon that are seen as essential, if the jet is to secure further orders in the Gulf region, namely an AESA radar and integration of the Storm Shadow cruise missile.
At the same time, and in seeming contradiction to this reported Saudi generosity, BAE Systems has been obliged to note in its financial reports to shareholders, that the Saudis have still not agreed prices for their own Typhoons, although some 30 aircraft have already been delivered.
Dunne declined to comment on these reports yesterday, except to note, “We enjoy a constructive relationship with the Royal Saudi Air Force and discuss capability enhancements with them as they come on stream.”