Dubai Airshow

Speculation Mounts That F-35 Lightning Might Strike in UAE

 - November 12, 2017 (All day)
Could the F-35 replace UAE F-16s?

Is the U.S. preparing to offer the F-35 stealth fighter to the UAE? In the days leading up to this year's Dubai Airshow, there has been speculation in media reports about this, especially quoting think tanks in Washington, D.C. Such an offer would be a departure from long-standing previous U.S. security assistance policy, which has been always to ensure that Israel has a “qualitative military edge” over all other countries in the Middle East.

However, Lockheed Martin is not even bringing its portable unclassified F-35 cockpit demonstrator to the Dubai Air Show this week, and AIN has also learned that the company's F-35 marketing officials are not making the trip to Dubai for the show. But the U.S. and the UAE clearly have a close defense relationship. During a press conference in Dubai on November 10, U.S. Air Force vice-chief of staff General Stephen Wilson said that the UAE “had started the process.” He continued, “We are in the initial stages of looking at options for all partners in the Gulf. The F-35 is a pretty incredible airplane, we think it is going to be dominant. And that's why we're looking now at partners that need that capability.”

Riad Kahwaji, the general manager of Segma, the local company that organized DIAC, who was previously with local defense think-tank INEGMA, told AIN: “I believe that there have been some talks between the U.S and the UAE about the F-35, but there are still some export control issues to be cleared on the U.S. side.”

So the prospect of the Lightning II appearing at a future Dubai Air Show might not be so distant. That could be bad news for the makers of European fighters, such as Dassault (the Rafale) and Eurofighter (the Typhoon). They and their governments have been talking up the prospect of an order from the UAE for years. But why should the UAE settle for another fourth-generation fighter to supplement its F-16 Block 60s and Mirage 2000s, when it can acquire fifth-generation jets instead?