Compatible military equipment vital to stable Gulf, US official says

Interoperability would improve stability and safety in the region, where countries face a multitude of common threats, according to Washington.

DUBAI // A top US government official said yesterday that his country would like to see its Gulf allies adopt military hardware that is compatible with their neighbours' and that of the US. Doing so would improve stability and safety in the region, said Bruce Lemkin, deputy undersecretary for international affairs of the US Air Force.

"We would like those capabilities to be inter-operable, so we can operate, train and fly together," he said. "That translates to, if it is appropriate, we can fly and fight together as coalition partners." Several European countries are hoping that Gulf nations will acquire fighter jets such as the multinational Eurofighter Typhoon and France's Rafale rather than the US-built F-16 or F-15. "We're all faced with a multitude of threats; most of them are common threats," Mr Lemkin said in an interview on the sidelines of the Dubai International Air Show. "And it is in our interest, the UAE's interest, the US interest, all of our partners' interests, to make this world more secure."

Mr Lemkin said that a goal was "the kind of security and stability that allows the economic and social development". Experts have said that compatibility of military equipment could be crucial in developing a common early-warning system for airborne threats. Underscoring the UAE's importance in the region and its ties to the US, Mr Lemkin said, was the participation by UAE airmen in so-called "Red Flag" training exercises this summer in the western US.

The exercises have been held annually since 1975 and bring together contingents of airmen from the US, Nato and other US allies. This year, for the first time, the UAE participated in the advanced training, which is designed to push pilots to their limits by putting them in an environment similar to what they would find over a real battlefield. Mr Lemkin said that the UAE pilots had performed "wonderfully" during the combat exercises this year, held at the Nellis air base in Nevada from August 22 to September 5.

"They are a very capable professional air force; they're moving forward with other capabilities," he said. The UAE pilots and ground crew, whose numbers were not disclosed, spent two weeks with the Arizona Air National Guard 162nd Fighter Wing in preparation for the exercise, according to the US Air Force. UAE fighter pilots have trained in Arizona for the past eight years, according to the US. The UAE funded nearly US$3 billion (Dh11bn) in research and development costs to produce the nation's front-line combat aircraft, the F-16E Desert Falcon, for its 80-aircraft order in 2004. Mr Lemkin described the F-16 as "the premier single-engine fighter in the world".

He added that another sign of the strong ties between the UAE and the US was the demonstration on Sunday by America's most advanced fighter jet, the F-22 Raptor, at the Dubai Air Show. "The reason we have the F-22 here is because of our commitment to the UAE," said Mr Lemkin.The Raptor's brief demonstration, the first in the Middle East, was the highlight of the first day's aerial shows at the international exhibition, which this year has attracted nearly 900 exhibitors from 50 countries.

"Having gone to lots of international air shows, I'll tell you, it's the most impressive air-power demonstration I have ever seen," Mr Lemkin said.