Brussels (Brussels Morning) The United Arab Emirates has decided to suspend until further notice talks on the purchase of US-made F-35 fighter jets, putting a question mark on a planned 23 billion dollar deal between Washington and Abu Dhabi.
A UAE official reported that the Emirates made a reassessment of their procurement needs, after reviewing technical requirements, cost/benefit analysis, and “sovereign operational restrictions”.
The bottom line suggests that Abu Dhabi severely resented the strings Washington was attaching to the purchase of its fifth-generation, hi-tech stealth fighter. Forbes magazine reported in April this year that the US was likely to place a number of restrictions on Abu Dhabi when it came to using the plane and its top secret technologies, reflecting a number of pressing concerns.
As evidenced in the case of Turkey, the US is very concerned about sharing its latest technology with a country that also has military partnerships in place with Russia and/or China. Abu Dhabi previously held talks with Moscow on the joint development of a fifth-generation fighter jet based on the MiG-29 platform, and had purchased Wing Loong II drones from China.
Washington is thought likely to have made its sale of the F-35s conditional on the Emirates no longer engaging in technology transfers either with Russia or with China. Moreover, as the Emirates opened the way to use of the Huawei infrastructure in the development of the country’s 5G mobile network, the US may also have imposed other constraints on technology to be delivered and used once the F-35 jets were sold to Abu Dhabi.
Finally, concerned about the Emirates’ role in the conflicts in Yemen and Libya, Washington quite likely included a series of limitations on the planes’ future operational use. Forbes speculated, for example, that the planes might not be allowed to be stationed anywhere outside of the Emirates, and that they would not be allowed to participate in any action in foreign countries other than as a part of a coalition with US allies.
The Emirates signed a deal with France two weeks ago for the procurement of 80 Dassault Rafale fighter jets. Military analysts believe the planned purchase is intended only to replace the ageing fleet of Emirati Dassault Mirage 2000 fighters. Meanwhile, it is believed the the UAE will continue to look for a fifth generation jet for its air force. Some analysts are convinced that the suspension of negotiations is no more than pressure being applied ahead of the planned meeting of high-ranking officials from both sides in the Pentagon this week, in hopes that the US will prove willing to arrive at a compromise about its strict operational requirements.