The United Arab Emirates (UAE) has suspended a $23 billion deal to buy US-made F-35 fighter jets and MQ-9 combat drones, the CNN reported on December 14.
An unnamed Emirati official told the Atlanta-based news network that Abu Dhabi’s frustration with Washington’s attempts to limit Chinese technology sales to the UAE was behind the decision.
“The UAE has informed the US that it will suspend discussions to acquire the F-35,” the official said. “Technical requirements, sovereign operational restrictions, and cost/benefit analysis led to the re-assessment.”
The official went on to say that the US will remain “the UAE’s preferred provider for advanced defense requirements and discussions for the F-35 may be re-opened in the future.”
Washington’s main concern was reportedly Abu Dhabi’s relationship with China, including use of Huawei 5G technology in the country.
Earlier, Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said that the partnership with the UAE was more strategic and complex than a weapons sale and Washington was committed to working with Abu Dhabi to address their questions.
“We will always insist, as a matter of statutory requirements and policy, on a variety of end use requirements,” Kirby said, according to Reuters.
Under the multi-billion dollar deal, the UAE Air Force was supposed to receive 50 F-35 fighter jets and up to 18 MQ-9 combat drones. The deal was a cornerstone of the US-sponsored 2020 Israel–UAE peace agreement
It’s worth noting that on December 3, the UAE signed a $19.20 billion deal for 80 French-made Rafale fighter jets and 12 Caracal helicopters. The collapse of the F-35 deal was likely one of the reasons that pushed Abu Dhabi closer to the French contract.
The UAE may soon look into other options to arm its air force with stealth 5th generation fighter jets. One of the most likely option is the Russian-made Su-75 Checkmate, which was showcased during the 2021 Dubai Airshow. Abu Dhabi was reportedly interested in the project.