The United Arab Emirates Air Force has decided to buy another 25 Lockheed Martin F-16 Block 60 fighters. The deal is worth $4- to $5 billion, according to a senior Pentagon official who briefed reporters in Washington. The UAE, together with Saudi Arabia, will also be receiving unspecified “advanced standoff weapons” for its fighters, added the same official. The sales have not yet been formally notified to the U.S. Congress, although the Pentagon had consulted with key legislators there, according to the official.
The Block 60 F-16, also known as the Desert Falcon, was developed specifically for the UAE, which received 80 of the jets between 2005 and 2010. It features more powerful GE F110 engines, a Northrop Grumman APG-80 AESA radar, conformal fuel tanks, integrated infrared search and track (IRST) system and advanced electronic warfare system.
The UAE has been considering a new fighter for the past six years, and opened negotiations with France for a large fleet of Dassault Rafales. But these talks foundered in 2011-12, and the UK has been pressing the merits of the four-nation Eurofighter Typhoon as an alternative. It is not clear whether or how the new purchase from the U.S. will affect these deliberations. The UAE Air Force also flies approximately 60 advanced Dassault Mirage 2000-9 fighters.
The U.S. gained private approval from Israel for the new sale, together with the earlier deal to supply 84 new F-15SA Strike Eagles to Saudi Arabia. The perceived threat to regional security from Iran is driving this accommodation. The senior Pentagon official made explicit, for the first time, the conditions of use that are attached to such sales. “There will be enhanced end-use monitoring…and consultation before any of [these] weapons’ deployment,” he said.
The first F-15SA flew at Boeing’s St. Louis fighter factory on February 20. Deliveries are scheduled to begin in 2015 and conclude by 2019.