A week after Israel and the United Arab Emirates normalized relations it appears that the deal to sell the Arab nation the Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter is also being finalized. The United States and the UAE could likely have an initial agreement on the sale of the stealth fighter jets to the Gulf state in place by December 2 – the UAE's National Day, which marks the country's formal independence from the United Kingdom.
The White House has been determining how to structure a deal that wouldn't run afoul of Israel or the United States Congress's pledge to support the Jewish state.
Any deal must satisfy decades of agreement with Israel that states any U.S. weapons sold in the region cannot impair Israel's "qualitative military edge," and that essentially has guaranteed that U.S. weapons supplied to Israel are "superior in capability" than any sold to its neighbors – including those that could be potential allies to both the State of Israel and the United States.
According to multiple sources online including Reuters, a working idea was for Israeli air defenses to be able to detect the UAE F-35 with technology that effectively defeats the stealth capabilities of the fifth-generation advanced fighter aircraft. It is not clear however if this could entail changing the jet or by providing Israel with superior radar systems.
A Pentagon spokesperson was quoted as telling Reuters, "as a matter of policy, the United States does not confirm or comment on proposed defense sales or transfers until they are formally notified to Congress."
The Art of the Deal
The Lockheed Martin F-35 would certainly provide a qualitative edge to any user, and that is why Israel has been the sole operator of the stealth aircraft and currently has two squadrons with a total of 24 of the advanced fighters. Sales of the F-35 have been denied to the Arab states so far.
However, as the UAE has been one of Washington's closest Middle Eastern allies it has long expressed interest in obtaining the jets and was reportedly promised a chance to buy the fighters as a side deal when it agreed to normalize relations with Israel.
Senior UAE officials have said that the normalization with Israel should lift the remaining qualitative military edge (QME).
"The whole idea of a state of belligerency or war with Israel is over, so I think it should actually be easier [to purchase the fighter jet]," senior UAE diplomat Anwar Gargash said in August, as reported by The Times of Israel. "We feel that with the signing of this treaty in the coming weeks or months… that any hurdle toward this [purchase] should no longer be there."
The F-35I Adir
What is also notable is that in addition to being the only operator of the F-35 in the region, the Israeli Air Force actually is the sole operator worldwide of the F-35I variation known as the Adir or "Mighty Ones." It is a variant that has been heavily tailored to the country's specifications.
This includes the first nineteen that were actually the standard F-35A land-based fighter configuration fighters, which were retrofitted with an open architecture Israeli Command, Control, Communications and Computing (C4) system.
It is also worth noting that Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI), one of the nation's major aerospace and aviation manufacturers, currently produces the wings and other components for F-35 fighters sold to Lockheed Martin's international customers. While the main production for the wings is at the Lockheed Martin facility in Fort Worth, Texas, those aircraft are primarily supplied to the U.S. Air Force, Navy and Marines.
Another production line in Italy is used to supply aircraft wings purchased by NATO countries, while the production line in Lod, Israel was established to produce the aircraft wings and other components for the rest of the world. Thus if the UAE does obtain F-35s some of the parts will likely be built in Israel.
Finally, even if the UAE deal to buy the fighters is approved it could be sometime before any land in the Emirates. Poland is the most recent F-35 customer, but the first of its 32 jets will not be delivered until at least 2024. Lockheed Martin certainly has quite the waiting list for the aircraft everyone seems to want.
Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer who has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers and websites. He is the author of several books on military headgear including A Gallery of Military Headdress, which is available on Amazon.com.