The United States State Department delivered a formal notification to the Congress saying it had given the green light for the sale of 50 Lockheed Martin F-35 stealth fighter jets, 18 General Atomics MQ-9B armed drones, and an array of missiles. The total sale is valued at over $23 billion.
The U.S. Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA) announced the potential sale of 50 F-35As requested by the Government of the United Arab Emirates. The sale of the stealth fighter, thought to amount to $10.4 billion, should “ improve the security of an important regional partner.” As for the drones contract, estimated at $2.97 billion, it includes 18 MQ-9B armed drones (the latest version of General Atomics’ best-seller) and the delivery of 515 AGM-114R Hellfire missiles as well as anti-submarine warfare sensors and kits. The acquisition will help the UAE “meet current and future threats by providing timely Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (ISR), target acquisition, locate submarines and counter-land and counter-surface sea capabilities for its security and defense,” the DSCA claims. A third possible contract would see various missiles, bombs, and other weapon systems being sold for a total of $10 billion.
The massive sale might have some diplomatic repercussions in the Middle East for the United States. Indeed, when the Emirati government sent its demand to acquire a number of F-35A stealth fighters, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu protested. Despite recently normalizing its relationship with the UAE, Israel fears that the arms sales could disturb the power balance in the Middle East and make the country lose its edge in the region. Given that the United States recently reiterated its commitment to “maintain Israel’s qualitative edge,” compensations could be provided.
The Israel Air Force already operates the F-35A and was even the first operator to use the stealth fighter in combat. In May 2018, the Israeli Air Force announced it had used the jet to carry out strikes in Syria against Iranian positions and in neighboring Lebanon against Hezbollah insurgents.