UAE acquisition of F-35s on track as negotiations with the US continue

Emirati official tells ‘The National’ the two countries are in talks over securing the technology provided by the jets, but that further discussions are required before the UAE can be satisfied the sale will meet its requirements

An F-35 military aircraft of the Royal Netherlands Air Force trains on targets at the NATO training location at the Vliehors Range on Vlieland. (Photo by Vincent JANNINK / ANP / AFP) / Netherlands OUT
Powered by automated translation

As the UAE and the US continue talks over the finalisation of the UAE's acquisition of F-35 jets, sources in Abu Dhabi told The National that the sale remains on track as officials from both countries work closely together to confirm details of the purchase.

Among those details are ensuring mutually agreed measures to protect the advanced technology. In meetings earlier this month in Abu Dhabi, UAE and US officials progressed discussions on various security and diplomatic initiatives, including on the F-35s, and in particular on the UAE’s technical requirements.

Despite the UAE’s growing defence ties with a number of countries, the US remains its partner of choice – in security, in addition to trade and strategic outlook. And the US-supplied F-35 is the UAE’s next generation fighter of choice as it can deliver the full range of the UAE Air Force’s needs, including super-cruise, stealth capability, super-­manoeuvrability, and advanced avionics.

There has been a delay in completing the sale of the F-35s, as the Biden administration announced a blanket review of all military deals conducted towards the end of the Donald Trump presidency. However, US officials have confirmed that the sale will go ahead.

In April, a State Department spokesperson said in a statement: “The administration intends to move forward with these proposed defence sales to the UAE, even as we continue reviewing details and consulting with Emirati officials to ensure we have developed mutual understandings with respect to Emirati obligations before, during, and after delivery.”

Hend Al Otaiba, Director of Strategic Communications at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Co-operation, highlighted the significance of the sale, beyond its military use.

She told The National: "It is much more than selling military hardware to a partner. It is about advancing a more stable and secure Middle East. It also enables the UAE to take on more of the regional burden for collective security. In this context, we need to make sure that the UAE F-35 package meets our requirements."

US officials and military leaders have strongly endorsed the UAE as a trusted and capable partner in advancing shared security priorities in the region.

Just last month, Gen Kenneth McKenzie Jr, Commander of US Central Command, echoed this sentiment in an April 2021 testimony before the House Armed Services Committee.

Gen McKenzie said: “One of the things for supporting our friends in the region is to give them the best capability that we can afford to give them, consistent with the other requirements.”

A senior Emirati official told The National: "For more than 20 years, the US has entrusted the UAE to purchase and operate F-16s, Patriots, THAAD and many other of the most advanced US-supplied defence systems.

“The UAE has only made limited defence purchases from other countries when the US would not or could not supply critical equipment.”

The official, speaking on the condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the topic, responded to reports that the US could have concerns about technology-transfer by saying: “There has never been a report of US technology being diverted to an adversary by the UAE. The US confidence in the UAE is obvious at the Al Dhafra airbase in Abu Dhabi where the UAE has based US F-35 squadrons and just about everything else the US Air Force flies.”

The UAE shares US concerns and has invested significant resources into protecting advanced technologies and critical systems from adversaries and competitors, according to the source.

Recent high-profile hacks, including of US pipelines, have demonstrated the need for strengthened cyber defences and ensuring heightened protection across all systems.

However, the UAE also has its own requirements and timelines.

The Emirati official told The National: "The negotiations with the US are ongoing to fulfil UAE technical requirements, and it is essential that we satisfy these requirements to conclude the sale. UAE defences rely on a range of systems and technologies; no single aircraft or system is absolutely critical.

“Also, the nature of warfare and threats continues to evolve. Even as we advance discussions with the US, the long horizon for the F-35 allows the UAE to consider other options in meeting these new and changing threats.”