Hours Before Biden’s Inauguration, UAE & US Ink $23Bn Deal For F-35s & Reaper Drones

Hours before President Joe Biden’s inauguration, the UAE inked a deal with the US to procure 50 F-35 Lightning II fighter jets and 18 MQ-9 Reaper drones.

According to news agency Reuters, the estimated cost of the deal is around $23 billion. The country had been desperately seeking F-35s from the United States and the decision was taken after considering Israel’s position on the matter.

The UAE, one of Washington’s closest Middle East allies, has long expressed interest in acquiring the stealthy F-35 jets made by Lockheed Martin and was promised a chance to buy them in a side deal when it agreed to normalize relations with Israel last August, Reuters reported.

With the deal, Lockheed Martin, General Atomics, and Raytheon would be the prime contractors. The Donald Trump administration had officially notified lawmakers of his plan to ink the deal with the Arab country back in November last year.

The fifth-generation aircraft accounts for roughly half of the total amount at $10.4 billion, according to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. Also included are air-to-air and air-to-ground munitions worth $10 billion, and Reaper drones worth nearly $3 billion.

In the statement, Pompeo stated, “This is in recognition of our deepening relationship and the UAE’s need for advanced defense capabilities to deter and defend itself against heightened threats from Iran.

“The proposed sale will make the UAE even more capable and interoperable with U.S. partners in a manner fully consistent with America’s longstanding commitment to ensuring Israel’s Qualitative Military Edge,” he added.

The F-35s to be acquired by the UAE would not interfere with the Israeli systems and maintain the ‘qualitative military edge’ of the Jewish nation in the Middle-East, reports suggest. Lockheed Martin had been approached by Washington to study ways to make UAE’s F-35s more ‘visible’ to Israeli radars, however, it is not sure if this could be achieved by making modifications to the jet or by providing Israel with better radars.

The UAE is involved in many Middle-Eastern conflicts, mainly in Yemen, where its troops are supporting the Southern Transitional Council government, against ISIS, and in the Libyan Civil War (supporting Gen. Haftar’s LNA), and against ISIS insurgency in Sinai.