The UAE Signs Deal to Purchase Chinese L-15 Fighter Jets
Prior to its plan to acquire the Chinese fighters, the UAE had sought to purchase a number of F-35 fighter aircraft from the United States.
The United Arab Emirates announced on Wednesday that it would purchase twelve L-15 fighter aircraft from the China National Aero-Technology Import and Export Corporation (CATIC). As part of the agreement, the UAE will have the option to buy thirty-six more L-15s in the future.
“We have reached the final stage in our talks with the Chinese side,” claimed Tareq al-Hosani, the CEO of the UAE’s Tawazun Economic Council, which oversees Abu Dhabi’s foreign military acquisitions. “The final contract will … be signed soon.”
The L-15, which is used as a low-cost jet trainer and light attack aircraft, has similar roles and capabilities as the United States’ F-5 “Tiger” fighter. The purchase comes as the UAE faces an escalating series of drone and missile attacks originating from Yemen, where Abu Dhabi has participated in the Saudi-led international effort to dislodge the Houthis from the country’s north.
Prior to its plan to acquire the L-15s, the UAE had sought to purchase a number of F-35 fighter aircraft from the United States. As part of the purchase, Abu Dhabi received special clearance from the administration of President Donald Trump. As the first Arab nation to operate the F-35, many officials noted that the UAE’s purchase of the aircraft threatened to upset Washington’s policy of ensuring Israel’s “qualitative military edge” over its neighbors.
However, in December 2021, Abu Dhabi suspended its efforts to purchase the jets, citing frustrations over the strict security measures that Congress demanded. The UAE has contracted heavily with Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei, which Washington regards as a security risk.
Many liberals in the United States also objected to the F-35 sale, citing concerns over the UAE’s human rights record during the war in Yemen. Although the UAE withdrew ground troops from Yemen in 2019, it has continued its aerial campaign, which observers claim has resulted in significant civilian casualties over the course of Yemen’s eight-year war.
While the United States no longer participates in the Arab coalition’s offensive operations against the Houthis, it has continued to assist Saudi Arabia and the UAE against Houthi attacks. In early February, the Pentagon announced that a U.S. destroyer and a contingent of fighter jets would be deployed to the UAE to guard against further attacks.
The UAE currently operates a mix of U.S. F-16 and French Mirage fighters. It also ordered Rafale jets from France in mid-2021.
Trevor Filseth is a current and foreign affairs writer for the National Interest.