Dubai Airshow

Dubai 2019: More A330s and GlobalEyes for the UAE

 - November 20, 2019, 5:03 AM
An Emirati A330 MRTT performs a flypast during the Dubai Airshow, escorted by Mirage 2000-9s. Unusually, the national insignia had been removed from the tanker/transport, of which the UAE intends to buy three more. (photo: David Donald)

On the last days of the Dubai Airshow, the United Arab Emirates General Headquarters (GHQ) announced its intentions to double the A330 MRTT tanker-transport fleet and to add two further Saab GlobalEye multi-role airborne early warning/reconnaissance aircraft. In both cases, the announcements only spelled out intentions to procure, and final negotiations are yet to be concluded.

The first intention, announced on November 19, covered a contract amendment, worth around $1.018 billion, for a pair of additional GlobalEyes that would add to the current order for three. The third example of the aircraft was at the show, making the type’s first trade show appearance. The program is in the last stages of manufacturer testing, and an initial delivery to the UAE Air Force and Air Defence is expected next spring.

On the following day, a GHQ spokesperson revealed an intention to buy three more Airbus A330 MRTT aircraft to add to the three that are already in UAE AFAD service. The current fleet has been working hard in recent years in support of overseas training and operational deployments. If the plan proceeds as intended, this would appear to end Boeing’s hopes that it could also sell the KC-46 to the UAE, at least in the short term.

Otherwise, Dubai 2019 was a relatively quiet affair in terms of new defense orders and debutants. The UAE announced a $490 million contract with Dassault for Mirage 2000 enhancements. While the value would not suggest a major upgrade, it is sufficient to add a range of additional capabilities to the type.

Boeing and Embraer took the opportunity of the Dubai Airshow to launch their new Boeing Embraer-Defense joint venture to oversee the KC-390 program, the aircraft itself also getting a new name as the C-390 Millennium.

Leonardo also briefed on its involvement as minority financial and lead technology investor in the Skydweller project, which aims to produce an unmanned persistent ISR/communications relay platform that can stay aloft for up to 90 days on solar power, based on the manned Solar Impulse 2. The Skydweller team is aiming to take on the MALE UAV market with a craft that can provide the wide-area, 24/7 coverage that currently requires fleets of short-endurance UAVs working in shifts.

China’s UAVs were also to the fore, with both Wing Loong 1 and 2 on show in the static display. A full-scale mock-up of the U8EW armed rotary-wing UAV was also shown for the first time outside China.

Naturally, UAE companies put on a major display, especially the newly formed Edge that brings together a number of companies into a major defense group. The group showed off an impressive and growing range of guided munitions from the Halcon and Al Tariq companies, and also growing military MRO capability through GAL and Ammroc, a joint venture with Lockheed Martin/Sikorsky. Al Bateen-based Aquila Aerospace also brought a Challenger 650 to the show, just before it goes into a major rework to convert it to a multi-sensor ISR platform for the UAE AFAD.

On the last day of the show, a $620 million order was placed by the UAE Air Force for 24 B-250 light attack aircraft with local company Calidus, which will build them at a plant at Al Ain.