Why The US Fears Its Key Defense Partner Could Leak F-35’s Stealth Technology To China?

The growing security ties between China and the UAE may force the US to rethink its F-35 deal with the Gulf nation.

According to a recent Wall Street Journal report, the security cooperation between China and the UAE may prompt the US to review its decision to sell what is considered the world’s costliest combat aircraft.

China, UAE issue joint statement on strengthening ties - CGTN

China’s growing footprints in the UAE and the rest of the Middle East are being critically looked at by the US. The UAE is one of the closest allies of the US in the region.

The WSJ report said American intelligence officials have red-flagged a recent incident in which two planes of China’s People’s Liberation Army were seen unloading undetermined cargoes at a UAE airport.

The F-35 Deal

After the signing of the Abraham Accord of 2020 which normalized the relations between the UAE and Israel, the Trump administration had decided to sell 50 F-35 Lightning II aircraft to the Gulf state.

The package deal worth $23.37 billion also included about 18 MQ-9B drones and a collection of air-to-air and air-to-ground munitions.

The US regards the F-35 as its crowning jewel and has been rather choosy on sealing the fighter jets. Developed by Lockheed Martin, F-35 is one of the most technologically advanced warplanes ever built.

There are eight international partners for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program — the US, United Kingdom, Italy, Netherlands, Australia, Norway, Denmark, and Canada.

Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II - Wikipedia
Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II – Wikipedia

Six Foreign Military Sales customers are also procuring and operating the F-35 ­— Israel, Japan, South Korea, Poland, Belgium, and Singapore, according to Lockheed Martin, the prime contractor for the program.

It is branded as a high-end stealth machine with unmatched situational awareness to conduct mission operations electronically, aided by advanced data capturing and a robust communication suite.

Its hi-tech sensor package collects a large amount of data, more than any previous fighter has in the history of combat aviation, giving its pilots a decisive advantage in a battle.

According to the deal between the US and UAE, the F-35s were to be delivered to the latter by 2027. The report by WSJ states that the US, before the sale of its most advanced fighter jets, wants guarantees from the UAE that it would not allow China any access to American war-fighting technology.

US Lawmakers Opposed The Deal 

In an earlier story, the EurAsian Times had highlighted the hurdles before the US’ F-35 deal and the UAE.

US, UAE Could Sign Deal To Acquire ‘Non-Stealthy’ F-35 Fighter Jets By End Of 2020: Reports

Democratic lawmaker and Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Gregory Meeks had raised “many questions about any decision by the Biden Administration to go forward with the Trump Administration’s proposed transfers of F-35s, armed UAVs (drones), munitions and other weapons”.

Israel is the only country in the Middle East to have the F-35 in its arsenal. At the time of the US-UAE deal, Israel had put forward some reservations to it.

The close ties it shares with the US had made it easy for Israel to gain an assurance that even with the deal, the qualitative military edge of Israel in the region will be maintained. 

In fact, maintaining the military edge of Israel is one of the conditions of the Biden administration for the sale of the F-35 to the UAE. Apart from this, the US has placed two other conditions — the UAE would ensure that any country, especially China, does not gain access to the F-35 or the drone technology and that the country will not use these weapons in Yemen or Libya.

The Growing UAE-China Ties

The ties between China and the UAE have expanded to diverse sectors over the years – from military to technology as well as health, as seen during the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.

China has provided its Sinopharm vaccine to the UAE, which has started administering the third dose of the same to its citizens.

According to the 2020 Pentagon report on China’s military ambitions, Beijing was considering various locations to establish its military logistics facilities, including the UAE.

The WSJ cited some defense officials, who indicated that Beijing may have been considering the establishment of a naval base in the UAE and sending military personnel to the country.

Even in the field of technology, China is getting closer to the UAE. Recently the Chinese tech giant Huawei launched a “one-stop-shop” for start-ups at the Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC) Innovation Hub.

Huawei is also seeking to be the leading 5G provider in the region. It’s pertinent to mention that the Chinese tech firm was accused of corporate espionage by its western competitors.

Experts are of the opinion that growing ties between the UAE and China, including defense ties, could leak the highly confidential F-35 specifications to China, including its stealth technology, which many nations are trying to master.