UAE Fighter, Trainer and Air Defense Buys Still Undecided

 - March 4, 2011, 9:15 AM
Alenia Aermacchi received a $29.4 million contract from the UAE for four MB339 trainers, likely destined for its new Al Fursan national aerobatic display team.

Held in Abu Dhabi, the IDEX defense exhibition is traditionally the platform for the United Arab Emirates to announce major deals. But apart from a possible buy of Predator UAVs and an H-60 upgrade (see separate stories), there was nothing on the UAE’s big-ticket items at last week’s event. Even the much-anticipated deal for the THAAD high-altitude air defense system has not been finalized. Lockheed Martin officials noted that a final review is to be undertaken this spring.

The hottest subject in the UAE is a new multi-role fighter to replace the Mirage 2000-9, for which the Dassault Rafale has been front-runner, with Boeing’s Super Hornet as a strong contender. A UAE spokesperson noted that “evaluations of fighters are ongoing,” but added that the Mirage 2000 is still “a modern fighter.” This was underlined by a $30.6 million contract for Dassault to upgrade the Mirage’s weapon system.

Two years ago a deal was announced at IDEX to purchase 48 Alenia Aermacchi M346 trainers, but this program appears to have foundered, and the UAE refused to make any comment. However, the Italian company was given a $29.4 million contract to supply four MB339 trainers. They are probably destined for the UAE’s new Al Fursan national aerobatic display team, which made its second public appearance during IDEX (see photo).

Other UAE Armed Forces aerospace contracts announced during the show were orders for four AgustaWestland AW139 VIP helicopters from Abu Dhabi Aviation; two P180 Avanti II light transports from Piaggio; Seeker II UAV engines from Denel; plus a technical support deal with AgustaWestland covering Chinook and AW139 helicopters.

An $81 million contract with Goodrich was announced covering the supply of DB-110 reconnaissance pods for the UAE’s F-16s, together with a related $18.4 million contract with Lockheed Martin for their integration and installation.