MQ-9 Reaper, F-35 Stealth Jet Deal In Focus At Dubai Airshow While Russia Hogs Limelight With Su-75 Checkmate

Dubai Airshow that kicked off on November 14 is being touted as one of the largest aviation expos, showcasing some of the highly advanced aircraft and connecting aerospace industry professionals in the world.

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The focus of the exhibition is next-generation fighter aircraft and unmanned aerial systems. Apart from Russia’s latest stealth aircraft Checkmate, American F-35 and MQ-9 Reaper drones have also become a hot topic in this edition of the event.

All eyes will be on whether previous agreements reached by the Trump administration to sell the Lockheed Martin F-35 and the General Atomics MQ-9 Reaper drone to the UAE will be fulfilled. The Biden administration has put the entire agreement under review.

If the UAE becomes successful in completing this contract, it will boost the standing of its air force and make the UAE the first Arab country to own these weapons.

Richard Aboulafia, vice president of analysis at Teal Group, told CNBC that the UAE has had a major fighter aircraft requirement for a long time, and is now considering purchasing the F-35, which is, of course, riddled with issues.

Dubai Airshow
Dubai Airshow began on November 14, 2021.

The $23-billion contract, which was finalized by the Trump administration, includes the sale of 50 F-35 fighter jets and at least 18 armed drones.

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The US historically has ruled out the selling of the F-35 to the UAE due to a legislative obligation to maintain Israel’s qualitative military edge in the Middle East. All of that changed in August 2020, when Israel and the UAE inked the Abraham Accords, restoring relations and clearing the road for cooperation and trade in practically every industry.

Previously, US export restrictions prohibited the sale of armed drones to any of its Arab allies.

Combat Drones

Drones are undeniably playing a key role in today’s warfare; practically every government in the world is either acquiring or developing drones to meet their specific needs.

When it comes to the world’s greatest and most sophisticated unmanned aerial weaponry, Turkey, the United States, China, and Russia are among the leading players in the defense market.

UAV Dubai
A UAV is put on display at Dubai Airshow

Some of the world’s most technologically advanced drones will be showcased in the Dubai Airshow. According to Kronshtadt, a Russian military system manufacturer, it will demonstrate a new control system that will give swarming army drones more autonomy.

The system incorporates cutting-edge information technology such as artificial intelligence and augmented reality, as well as 3D terrain visualization.

Instead of just directing and commanding each drone individually and computing flight routes, this sophisticated system, according to Kronshtadt, would set a goal for the swarming drones to “agree” on the order of operations, task division, and urgency.

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American company Fortem Technologies, a pioneer in airspace security and defense, officially confirmed its participation at this year’s Dubai Airshow.

Its latest offering SkyDome System 3.7 commands the longest distance for safely stopping an autonomous drone threat entering a protected venue, campus, or metro region.

The UAE and some of its neighbors have been purchasing Chinese-made Wing Loong weaponized drones. However, the deals are fraught with complications.

Apart from some performance concerns, the Chinese technology cannot be connected with the UAE’s command and control systems, which were developed by American firms.

US-UAE Defense Deals Under Biden

At the start of his presidency, Biden announced a review of the major arms contracts with the UAE but later said in April that the sale could go through. However, momentum was halted shortly afterward, apparently due to Washington’s concerns over the UAE’s expanding relations with China.

According to reports, the Biden administration has been pushing UAE to remove Huawei Technologies from its telecoms network and abandon other Chinese military technology over security concerns.

To make the UAE’s traditional network more reliable, Huawei and UAE-based telecommunication provider ‘du’ introduced the world’s first commercial transport software-defined network on the host network in 2016.

After a few years, the UAE’s Telecommunications Regulatory Authority asked the tech giant to open a “5G & IoT Joint OpenLab” in Dubai.

In May, the Wall Street Journal reported that two Chinese military planes landed on a UAE airfield and transported unidentified material. However, the concerns were dismissed by the UAE government.

Yousef al-Otaiba, UAE’s Ambassador to the US said that Abu Dhabi has a long history of safeguarding American military technologies. He emphasized that they had worked alongside the US military and in the UAE for many years, where a wide spectrum of sensitive US military assets are stationed.

Russia’s Checkmate

The Russian state corporation, Rostec, will present its new stealth fifth-generation fighter aircraft Su-75 Checkmate at Dubai Airshow, the aircraft’s first overseas event.

According to  Emirates News Agency (WAM), Viktor Kladov, Director of Rostec’s International Cooperation and Regional Policy Department said that the single-engine light tactical aircraft is likely to pique “great attention from the Middle East region”, as it exhibits apparent advantages.

Su-57 Felon and Su-75
Su-57 Felon and Su-75 Checkmate (via Twitter)

The aircraft can concurrently seek and detect targets, scan space and carry out mapping, prevent jamming, and jam the enemy owing to its low visibility, a built-in optical location station, airborne electronic security systems, and an Active Phased Array Radar (APAR).

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The first flight is scheduled for 2023, and serial production will begin in 2026. Within the next 15 years, Rostec’s United Aircraft Corporation expects to produce roughly 300 Checkmate combat jets.

Besides Checkmate, Russia will display at the Dubai Airshow in 2021. A modernized Ka-226T helicopter is one of the items, and it is the first helicopter in Russia to be built using digital design documentation.