Armed Forces in $5bn helicopter deal

Boeing to provide 30 Apache attack aircraft alongside Lockheed and Sikorsky products.

The UAE Armed Forces plans to double its fleet of Boeing Apache attack helicopters to 60.
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Boeing, General Electric (GE) and Lockheed Martin are poised to seal a US$5 billion (Dh18.36bn) contract with the UAE Armed Forces, which plans to double its fleet of Boeing Apache attack helicopters to 60.

The sale is part of a wholesale modernisation of the UAE's helicopter fleet including proposed purchases of Chinook heavy-lift aircraft and Black Hawk tactical transport helicopters that will be used for domestic protection as well as peacekeeping missions in Afghanistan.

The US defence security co-operation agency (DSCA) notified Congress last week of the possible sale, as well as a separate deal with the UAE for 140 tactical missile systems and training rockets worth $140 million.

"The UAE is currently deployed in support of US regional operations and plans to provide future deployment support," the DSCA said.

"This proposed sale will contribute to the foreign policy and national security of the US by helping to improve the security of a friendly country that has been and continues to be an important force for political stability and economic progress in the Middle East."

The agency gave no indication of when the deal might be completed.

Under the proposed sale, the UAE would acquire 30 new Apache helicopters and convert its existing fleet of 30 Apaches bought in the mid-1990s to the new Block III configuration, which features an improved sensor suite, a glass cockpit and upgraded weapons systems.

The Apaches would probably "be used for counter-terror/internal security needs and defending UAE borders", said Dan Darling, a Middle East defence analyst with Forecast International.

The deal would also include 120 GE engines, 70 Lockheed Martin Longbow fire-control radars and other systems including night-vision sensors and radar jammers.

"The UAE needs these helicopters to fulfil its strategic commitments for self defence, with coalition support, in the region," the DSCA said. "The helicopters will provide the UAE military with more advanced targeting and engagement capabilities.

"The proposed sale will provide for the defence of vital installations and will provide close air support for military ground forces."

Last December, the US agency also informed congress the UAE was interested in buying 16 of the latest Boeing CH-47F Chinook helicopters as part of a $2bn package that also included communications and self-protection systems.

The deal has yet to be completed. Boeing has targeted next year as the likely completion date for the deal.

This month the UAE military also confirmed it would grow its fleet of Sikorsky-made UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters to 60, including a new order for 20 of the aircraft worth $300m. Deliveries will run from February next year through to 2013, according to Sikorsky. The Black Hawk has also been purchased by Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Egypt and Bahrain.

The UAE has been one of the world's top arms buyers for the past decade, says the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.

Blenheim Capital Partners, a British firm that arranges defence-related finance deals, estimates the Armed Forces will spend $35bn over the next five years, including $25bn by the Air Force and Air Defence with the rest from its naval and land divisions.

While the UAE has attracted the attention of the world's biggest defence companies, it is Saudi Arabia that has become the Gulf's largest arms buyer, spending $36.7bn on weaponry from 2001 and 2008, according to a report from the US congressional research service.

The kingdom recently revealed a 10-year, $60bn arms acquisition programme with US firms including 70 Black Hawk helicopters and up to 60 Longbow Apache attack helicopters valued at $30bn.