According to the Israeli Channel 13 report, Pentagon and State Department officials threw cold water on any notions of U.S. ally the United Arab Emirates (UAE) potentially getting the Lockheed Martin F-35 stealth fighter jets.
According to the news station, Pentagon officials said they would not allow the sale of F-35 Stealth Fighters to the UAE in order to preserve Israel’s qualitative military edge (QME).
Two years ago at Dubai Air Show, U.S. Air Force Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Stephen Wilson confirmed that the United States was preparing to open up talks with the UAE on the F-35, paving the way for the first Gulf nation to acquire the U.S. military’s newest fighter jet.
But now, the focus of talks with the Emiratis is on upgrades to the country’s existing F-16s, said Ellen Lord, undersecretary of defense for acquisition and sustainment, during a roundtable with reporters.
“There have not been any classified briefings [with the UAE on the F-35]. There will not be any discussions [on the F-35] this week,” she said. “We do not have ongoing with the Emiratis right now. We are, within the U.S., discussing how we might end up in those.”
Lord did not specify if talks on the F-35 with the UAE had ever got off the ground. Nor did she characterize the Defense Department’s current thinking on a potential F-35 sale to the UAE or other Gulf nations, such as whether the U.S. retains concerns about the security of exporting the fighter jet to the region. Rather, Lord seemed to indicate talks were curtailed by the UAE’s decision to focus on near-term upgrades to the F-35.
“The Emiratis right now are pursuing F-16s, so we’re talking about upgrading the F-16 fleet,” she said.
The Emiratis procuring the F-35 would make sense for several reasons, analysts say. They’re among the U.S.’s largest weapons customers and most trusted allies in the Gulf, having deployed troops alongside the American forces in Afghanistan, Somalia, and Kosovo, as well as aiding in counterterrorism efforts.
Inviting a Gulf Arab country into the F-35 program would also be a reversal of a long-held U.S. policy of upholding Israel’s “qualitative military edge,” or QME, whereby Israel maintains a technological advantage in the region when it comes to defense capabilities. It was the second country to have the jet after the U.S., and has a current declared total of 16, having received its first jets in 2016.