China's J-20 Stealth Fighter Could Soon Be Headed to the Middle East

J-20 Fighter from China
April 23, 2024 Topic: Security Region: Middle East Blog Brand: The Buzz Tags: J-20StealthStealth FighterMilitaryDefenseChinaF-22F-35

China's J-20 Stealth Fighter Could Soon Be Headed to the Middle East

It might not be too early to suspect that Chinese aircraft such as the Chengdu J-20 Mighty Dragon could be in the future air fleet of the UAE.

Summary: In 2020, the UAE's decision to normalize relations with Israel was seen as a step toward Middle East stability, but complications arose due to the UAE's desire to acquire the advanced F-35 fighter jet, challenging Israel's security doctrine of maintaining military superiority.

-This tension may now drive the UAE towards other potential military suppliers like China. Recent UAE-China engagements suggest increasing cooperation, including potential military collaboration, highlighted by UAE's interest in Chinese aircraft like the J-20, following their inability to secure the F-35.

-This shift could reshape regional military dynamics and affect U.S.-Gulf strategic ties.

J-20 Fighter Headed to the Middle East? 

When the United Arab Emirates announced in 2020 that it would normalize relations with Israel, it was heralded as an achievement that could lead to peace and stability in the Middle East. Obviously that has not worked out so well, as numerous ongoing conflicts remind us almost daily.

It is easy to forget that the normalization process was nearly derailed by the UAE’s wish to acquire the Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II fifth-generation multirole fighter. Israel didn't want a potential rival, even a seemingly friendly one, operating the advanced aircraft.

Israeli security doctrine has long prioritized qualitative superiority over neighbors and possible rivals. Israel seeks out the most advanced military technology from the United States – or tries to develop it domestically – and wants to deny the same technology to adversaries. And as a nation surrounded by hostility, Israel must acknowledge that today's friends could be tomorrow's enemies.

Case in point, at one time Israel had a close relationship with Iran – a friendship that lasted for nearly 30 years until the Islamic Revolution of 1979­.

Not the F-35 – Could the UAE Get the J-20?

The UAE might be moving closer to China now, and that is a danger to both Israel and the United States. As The Hill reported last year, "The fabric of America's strategic ties to the Gulf region is fraying," and it would seem the situation is only getting worse.

China and the UAE are seeking to expand cooperation through investments in the Pacific islands and Africa. The Gulf state is also considering increased use of China’s currency, the yuan, offering China a low-risk gateway into the region. 

Most worrisome is the possibility that the two countries’ air forces are forging new bonds.

This week, a top Emirati military official visited a counterpart in China, Janes reported.  Maj. Gen. Saleh Mohammed bin Majren Al Ameri, commander of Joint Operations for the UAE, met with Lt. Gen. Chang Dingqiu, commander of the People’s Liberation Army Air Force, at the headquarters of the Chinese Ministry of Defense in Beijing.

"During the meeting, a number of topics related to the fields of joint military cooperation and work between the two countries and ways to support and develop them were discussed. The meeting was attended by a number of senior officers and officials of the MoDs of the two countries," the UAE Ministry of Defense said.

While we can only speculate on what was discussed, it might not be too early to suspect that Chinese aircraft such as the Chengdu J-20 Mighty Dragon could be in the future air fleet of the UAE. With the F-35 off the table, the Gulf state might look to China – and perhaps even Russia – for alternatives.

This is not all that farfetched. Last year the UAE received the first batch of Chinese Hondu L-15A Falcon advanced jet trainers.That might have been the first step toward Chinese fighters flying over the Persian Gulf.

Author Experience and Expertise: Peter Suciu 

Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer. He has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers, and websites with over 3,200 published pieces over a twenty-year career in journalism. He regularly writes about military hardware, firearms history, cybersecurity, politics, and international affairs. Peter is also a Contributing Writer for Forbes and Clearance Jobs. You can follow him on Twitter: @PeterSuciu.

You can email the author: [email protected].

Image Credit: Creative Commons. 

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