A short-notice, low-profile visit to the UAE by British Prime Minister David Cameron this week boosted the prospects of an order for the Eurofighter Typhoon. But government and military sources in London and Paris told AIN that the Emiratis are in no hurry to make a decision, and that the Dassault Rafale remains in contention. Dassault declined to comment on the latest development.
The UAE and the UK agreed to “establish a defense partnership that involves close collaboration around the Typhoon and a number of new technologies,” according to a joint communiqué at the end of the two-day visit.
The British have been leading a marketing effort for the Typhoon in the UAE since Emirati discontent with the French offer for Rafales became apparent one year ago. But France has established significant defense cooperation with the UAE. Since 2008 it has deployed a half-squadron of Rafales to Al Dhafra airbase, along with warships to Al Batin port and a battalion of ground troops. French pilots still fly the UAE Air Forces Mirage 2000-9 combat aircraft under contract.
Meanwhile, the UK Royal Air Force has been using Al Minhad airbase as a logistics hub to support operations in Afghanistan, and has recently sent small detachments of Tornados and Typhoons to the UAE. “The Emiratis want more regular exercising and engagement with us,” a British official told AIN.
The British prime minister also visited Saudi Arabia, whose long defense relationship with the UK has been strained by concerns in London over human rights and the Saudi intervention in Bahrain’s civil unrest. The Saudis have been sending mixed signals regarding their commitment to the 72-aircraft Al-Salam program. On the one hand, they have agreed to help fund upgrades to the Typhoon such as the AESA radar, an alternative targeting pod and integration of the Storm Shadow cruise missile. On the other, they have delayed agreement on the additional price to be paid for making the aircraft multi-role, and a currency adjustment factor. The first 24 aircraft were assembled in the UK and have entered service with the Royal Saudi Air Force. Following abandonment of the original plan to assemble the remaining 48 Typhoons in the Kingdom, the first of these is now rolling down the production line at Warton, with delivery scheduled for the middle of next year.