There was plenty of defense news at the Dubai Air Show this week, and one major surprise: Saab’s radical redevelopment of the EriEye airborne surveillance system for the UAE Air Force, including a new platform, the Global 6000. There was also one major disappointment: the Dubai International Air Chiefs’ Conference (DIAC) failed to provide any meaningful insight into the current air campaigns over Iraq/Syria and Yemen. Instead, senior airmen discussed coalition warfare and counter-insurgency in general terms. However, we had some detail to offer on a new American development that should improve close air support.
Kuwait is the latest Gulf country to be choosing new fighters, a buy that will likely be split between the Boeing Super Hornet and the Eurofighter Typhoon. The UAE’s intention to buy new combat jets was hardly mentioned until the last day of the show, when its air force chief told Reuters that negotiations for the Dassault Rafale are “in the final stage.” One of the distinguishing features of the Rafale is the ability to carry two advanced optronics pods made by Thales, for reconnaissance and targeting. An export version of the Chinese J-31 stealth fighter was displayed in model form by AVIC—perhaps a signal to the Gulf countries that although the U.S. won’t sell them F-35s, there is an alternative. AIN also covered an important development in the support of the large Saudi F-15 fleet, and during the show, Lockheed Martin announced a major sustainment and upgrade contract for the Sniper and Lantirn pods carried by those aircraft.
Air refueling assets have been in high demand during the current air wars over the Middle East. The Airbus A330MRTT has played a key role. One of three now serving with the UAE Air Force was on display, and we had news of new customers and new developments for the big tanker.
Two unique conversions for the UAE armed forces were on display. The latest version of the Iomax Archangel border patrol aircraft is replacing earlier versions which the UAE is passing to Jordan and Yemen. The Bell 407XP is an armed ISR version produced by local firm NorthStar Aviation. The UAE is also the “launch customer” for the unarmed export version of the Predator, and will likely also be the first to buy a new multirole patrol version of the Piaggio P.180 Avanti. Finally, the Emiratis said they would buy the AgustaWestland AW609 tiltrotor for search-and-rescue. The Italian company also showed its SW-4 rotary-wing UAS demonstrator for the first time, next to a smaller unmanned helicopter designated SD-150.
Missiles and missile defense are always hot topics at this show. Turkish company Roketsan displayed various new weapons. Raytheon is developing a “Next-Generation” version of the Patriot system. Many Gulf countries have invested in surface-to-air missile systems to counter the perceived threat from Iran, which may grow now that international sanctions that prevented the re-equipping of its air force are being lifted. We described the possibilities.
Two rival armed turbo-trainers were on display: the Beechcraft AT-6C Wolverine and the Embraer Super Tucano. As for jet trainers, Alenia is developing the M346 as a light attack aircraft. It is still eyeing the UAE as a potential customer, and also now Kuwait.
Finally, we had news from East and West about electronic warfare systems. Russia’s KRET is looking for export customers, and has some new developments flying over Syria on Sukhoi combat jets. Italy’s Elettronica displayed and briefed a new jamming pod for fighters.