F-35 Jet No Show at Dubai Airshow?

  • Defenseworld.net News Analysis
  • Tuesday, November 9, 2021 @ 08:35 AM
  • 4367
F-35 Jet No Show at Dubai Airshow?

F-35 at Al Dhafra Air Base, UAE. US DoD image

The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) does not feature in a list of aircraft to be displayed at the Dubai Airshow show starting next week.

According to a list of participating aircraft released by the show organizers, the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) is bringing its F-16 Flighting Falcon, P-8A Poseidon and MV-22B Osprey as its military aircraft display to the event; but not the F-35 whose sale has been approved to Abu Dhabi by the U.S. state department.

Does the absence of the F-35 stealth jet from the static display of the Dubai Airshow send a message about its purchase or otherwise by the United Arab Emirates (UAE) Air Force?

If the F-35 shows up at the Dubai Airshow, scheduled for Nov. 14-18, “this will be a strong signal that the negotiations are moving forward in a very positive direction,” said Danny Sebright, president of the U.S.-UAE Business Council in comments made to Defense News on November 8.

The F-35 has been brought to airshows of countries it has been sold to- like in the case of Singapore airshow where it was prominently displayed at the event venue in Changi Air Base.

F-35 Jet No Show at Dubai Airshow?
UAE AF Chief Ibrahim al-Alawi with Israel AF Commander Amikam Norkin at F-35 Conference

The aircraft could still participate in the flying displays by operating from an overseas base like it did during the 2019 edition of the show. U.S. Air Force F-35s of the 380th Air Expeditionary Wing have been deployed at UAE’s Al Dhafra Air Base since May 2020 so bringing them to the Dubai Airshow would pose no challenge.

The procurement of the F-35 jets along with killer drones altogether worth $23 billion, was approved by the outgoing Trump administration in 2019 which however was put on hold by the current US government under president Biden.

On October 25, the Commander of the UAE Kingdom’s Air Force Maj.-Gen. Ibrahim Nasser Mohammed al-Alawi landed in Israel for the first time as the guest of Israel Air Force Commander Amikam Norkin to participate in a conference for countries flying the F-35 during the Blue Flag aerial exercise.

The invitation hints at Israeli approval for the UAE to acquire the F-35, a potential purchase it did not green-light earlier to retain its ‘qualitative military edge’ against Islamic countries in the Middle East. It also indicates further warming up of relation between Abu Dhabi and Israel since the Abraham Accord two years ago.

F-35 Jet No Show at Dubai Airshow?
F-35 jet making overfly at Dubai airshow 2019. US DoD image

There is no official word from Washington regarding F-35 sale to the UAE in recent weeks.

However, there are hints that all loops regarding F-35 sale to the UAE are yet been closed. A State Department spokesperson told Reuters April 23, 2021 that the administration would move forward with the proposed sales to the UAE, "even as we continue reviewing details and consulting with Emirati officials" related to the use of the weapons.

The last phrase is significant as the UAE has been accused by a section of the U.S. media of participating in regional ‘destabilizing’ wars such as in Yemen and Libya using American weapons.

"They want to finalise that sale, it’s just a question of working out a few more details that are under discussion … so I’m optimistic about that,” outgoing U.S. ambassador to the UAE, Philip Frayne had said in a July 28, 2021 interview with The National newspaper.

Despite optimism that the F-35 deal would go ahead, some sections of the U.S. media and politicians are apprehensive of delivering cutting-edge weapons to the UAE. A November 3, 2021 article in the influential Foreign Policy magazine states, “Awash with advanced U.S. weapons, the UAE has emerged as one of the region’s most interventionist states, pursuing policies that have prolonged the region’s civil wars, created humanitarian crises, crushed democratic aspirations, and fuelled the underlying grievances that lead to unrest.”

F-35 Jet No Show at Dubai Airshow?
Light Strike fighter 'Checkmate' UAC Image

Will Russia be able to ‘Checkmate’ American F-35?

Russia’s United Aircraft Corporation (UAC) is bringing what it calls the prototype of the Su-75 ‘Checkmate’ stealth fighter jet in its first international appearance at the Dubai airshow. Russian defense holding company Rostec and the UAE’s Defence Ministry had launched a joint venture to co-produce fifth-generation Sukhoi jets in 2017.

The venture had gone cold since the Trump administration’s approval of UAE’s application to buy the F-35 aircraft and combat drones. But now that clouds of uncertainty hang over the F-35 sale, Rostec sees an opportunity that perhaps explains the high-profile display of the ‘Checkmate’ life-size model at the event.

Even if the F-35 deal with the UAE goes ahead, other Arab countries in the region who cannot afford or will not be allowed to buy the F-35 may look towards the Russian ‘Checkmate’ as a viable alternative.