UAE Signs A Deal To Buy 50 F-35 Fighter Aircraft & 18 MQ-9 Reaper Drones

UAE Signs A Deal To Buy 50 F-35 Fighter Aircraft & 18 MQ-9 Reaper Drones
Five U.S. Air Force F-35A Lightning II’s assigned to the 56th Fighter Wing line up before taking off at Luke Air Force Base, Ariz., July 27, 2019. The 56th FW has 100 F-35s currently assigned, as the Air Force’s largest fighter training base. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Jensen Stidham)

On Jan. 20, 2021, A Few hours before Biden’s inauguration, “the UAE has signed an agreement with the United States to purchase to 50 F-35 joint strike fighter aircraft and 18 MQ-9 Reaper drones. The deal is estimated at more than 23 billion USD and includes 50 F-35As (10.4B), 18 MQ-9Bs (2.9B), and air-to-air and air-to-ground weapons (10B).

The deal has been in the pipeline for months with a closing initially targeted by December. However, the extended negotiation took longer than expected and a letter of agreement was successfully inked just about one hour before President Joseph Biden took office.

The arms sale to UAE was one of the final acts of the Trump administration. However, whereas the Senate has rejected an attempt to block the arms sale to UAE in December, the new president has already made it clear that he will re-examine the agreements.

“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.

“Under American law, Israel is guaranteed weapons needed to maintain its ‘qualitative military edge’ over Arab nations. U.S. officials have said they can provide that assurance regardless of F-35 sales without specifying publicly what they would offer Israel,” Bloomberg.com said in October 2020. In fact, UAE will receive a “baseline” F-35A that would maintain a technological advantage for Israel’s highly customized F-35I Adir version of the aircraft.

The agreement delineates the cost of the aircraft, technical specifications and the schedule for F-35 deliveries to the UAE, people familiar with the deal told Reuters. Those sources could not confirm when the first F-35 is due to be delivered to Abu Dhabi, but stated that an initial proposal stipulated 2027 as one possible date.

The UAE deal was previously estimated at a $23.37 billion value, including 50 F-35A fighters worth $10.4 billion, 18 MQ-9B drones worth $2.97 billion, and $10 billion worth of air-to-air and air-to-ground munitions.

UAE Signs A Deal To Buy 50 F-35 Fighter Aircraft & 18 MQ-9 Reaper Drones
A U.S. Air Force MQ-9 Reaper assigned to the 556th Test and Evaluation Squadron armed with an AIM-9X Block 2 missile sits on the ramp at Creech Air Force Base, Nevada, Sept. 3, 2020. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Haley Stevens)

Those dollar totals are expected to shift around during further negotiations with F-35 prime contractor Lockheed Martin and MQ-9 maker General Atomics.

It’s unclear whether the incoming administration will seek to undo the deal. Biden’s pick for secretary of state, Antony Blinken, told reporters in late October that the sale is “something we would look at very, very carefully,” due to U.S. obligations to preserve Israel’s qualitative military edge.

In December, the Senate rejected an attempt to block the sale, with Republicans largely voting to preserve the deal. The first vote concerned the drones and munitions and failed 46-50, while the second concerned the F-35s and fell 47-49.

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