If the U.A.E. abandons the F-35, what will replace it?

United Arab Emirates has suspended negotiations for buying F-35 stealth fighter jets from the United States. The previous Trump administration had approved a contract to export 50 F-35s, 18 MQ-9 Reaper drones, and various related weapons to the U.A.E. with a total value of up to $23 billion, the Biden administration has it shelved.

 Emirati officials said the United States had been notified that talks to buy the F-35 would be suspended. He also stressed that technical issues, restrictions on the operation of fighter jets, and cost-effectiveness had forced the U.A.E. to reconsider its procurement plans. However, the official added that the United States remains the U.A.E.’s preferred country to purchase advanced weapons and equipment, and discussions on the purchase of the F-35 may be reopened in the future.

U.A.E and Dassault sign the Rafale deal
U.A.E and Dassault sign the Rafale deal

At the beginning of December 2021, the U.A.E. unexpectedly signed a $19 billion contract to buy 80 Rafale fighter jets from France, which are the older generation and not as technologically advanced as the F-35. The F-35 is considered far ahead of the Rafale in all major performance parameters except speed and range. And the engines used by the American fighters are the most powerful in the world, while the French fighters use a weaker engine.

In response to the U.A.E.’s withdrawal from the purchase of the F-35 contract, U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken emphasized that despite previous indications that the Biden administration opposed the deal, the sale of the F-35 is still possible. The U.S. remains committed to advancing F-35 and UAV sales. According to reports, the United States has put forward additional conditions on using the exported F-35 fighter jets and asked the U.A.E. to make political concessions. The political conditions relate to U.A.E’s close economic and security cooperation with China, a partnership the United States has long opposed.

 The F-35 is the only fifth-generation fighter jet in the world that is currently exported, and it is one of the two fifth-generation aircraft still in mass production. The aircraft has presently lower than intended combat capabilities and is still far from being ready for high-intensity warfare. Due to performance issues, the fighter’s progress has been delayed for several years. The F-35 is seen as a lighter and cheaper alternative to the F-22 Raptor heavy twin-engine fighter. But its performance has been heavily criticized by U.S. officials, including several defense secretaries. The proponents of the F-35 are upbeat about the planes prospects once it solves the performance problems that exist today.

If the purchase of the F-35 is abandoned, will U.A.E. buy the Russian Su-75 “Checkmate” stealth fighter?

There is no better place and time to establish and forge long-term relationships between people with money and aircraft manufacturers, argued the organizers of Dubai Airshow 2021, and the Russians went. The Arabs paid a lot of attention to the Russian Checkmate to F-35, but will that culminate into a deal?

The Russian Su-75 “Checkmate” is not of the same class as the F-35. Su-75 was created to replace the 4th Generation fighter aircraft serving Airforces with a cheaper alternative. The ideal replacement for the Emirati Mirage-2000-5 was the Su-75 Checkmate. But U.A.E chose to buy French Rafale, surprising the analysts who thought that the U.A.E would not buy a non-stealth aircraft.

Su-75 was displayed at Dubai Air Show 2021, as U.A.E. abandons the F35 , will it purchase it?
Su-75 was displayed at Dubai Air Show 2021

Another aspect is that U.A.E is far more invested in the U.S. and cannot risk the ‘Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA)’, a law that the U.S. uses to impose sanctions on Iran, North Korea, and Russia. Buying Su-75 means that U.A.E could be subjected to the same conditions imposed on Turkey after purchasing S-400 systems from Russia. 

The U.A.E has arrived at the current situation after it signed a deal for Huawei’s 5G technology, an international technology pariah. Will it risk further escalation of the situation by signing up for the Su-75? 

Fear of sanctions apart, Su-75 is still a paper plane, and it has to go through the developmental pangs before maturing to a level the F-35 is. 

F-35 is the only option

Currently, the U.A.E. Air Force has two light fourth-generation fighter jets, the French Mirage 2000-9 and the American F-16E/F. While the U.A.E. has bought Rafale to replace its ageing Mirage fighter jets, the country still hopes to replace the F-16 with the F-35 eventually. 

The current standoff between the U.A.E and the U.S. is seen as bravado by the middle eastern country. The anti-U.S. countries and most of the local population with anti-U.S. sentiments are watching it with glee. 

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Joseph P Chacko
Joseph P Chacko
Joseph P. Chacko is the publisher of Frontier India, portal publishing news and current affairs. He holds an M.B.A in International Business from the Maharishi University of Management, Iowa, USA. Twitter: @chackojoseph *views are Personal.
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