|By Gulshan Luthra||Published: December 2017|
Dubai. The United Arab Emirates (UAE) should finalize a decision for its “future fighter aircraft in not too distant a future while a deal on upgrading its Mirage 2000-9 fleet should be completed within weeks, say by the beginning of 2018.”
Maj Gen Staff Pilot Ishaq Saleh al Baloushi, Executive Director, Defence Industry and Capability Development at the UAE Ministry of Defence, told India Strategic in an interview that some of the best aircraft were on offer to the UAE from Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Dassault, Eurofighter consortium as well as the Su-35 from Russia. ” Technical Teams are evaluating various aircraft and systems to ensure the security of the country in the coming years.”
“There are various plans to modernize the UAE Air Force’s combat systems, and that experts are working on what next for upgrades as well as what newer systems should be acquired.”
“It is important to have the right equipment and systems for the security of our country and our Technical Teams are working very hard to down-select the requirements,’ said the Air Force General who incidentally has a Master’s Degree in Strategic Studies from the University of Madras in India.
As a younger officer – he looks quite young even now – he also spent some time at the Defence Services Staff College (DSSC) in 1995-96. His smiles while saying that he fondly remembered his time in India brought me smiles too, as there are reports of some cooperation happening between New Delhi and Abu Dhabi. Details are not known.
The interview was conducted at the Dubai Airshow and published in the December edition of India Strategic.
The UAE Air Force has the best variants of both the Lockheed Martin F-16 in Block 60, and French Dassault Mirage 2000-9. The Block 60 was the first F-16 variant with Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radar while the 2000 Dash 9 was configured with the best available Electronic Warfare (EW) suites of the time and was capable of firing the Black Shaheen (MBDA Storm Shadow) cruise missile.
A decision to upgrade nearly 80 F-16s for US$ 1.6 billion was announced at the show.
Lockheed Martin’s President and Chief Executive Marillyn Hewson commented that the “UAE Air Force flies the most advanced fourth-generation fighter in the world – the F-16 Block 60 Desert Falcon – and we will continue to support them in maintaining the aircraft.” Reports are that Lockheed Martin is also in discussions to sell its Fifth Generation F-35 aircraft.”
As for upgrading the single-engine Mirages, Maj Gen Baloushi said that three-party talks had been on between the UAE Air Force, aircraft maker Dassault and Thales which provides the on board EW systems. Asked about possible new tech to be brought on board them, he said there should be “some equipment and some man-machine interface.”
Once the negotiations are through, we will sign an agreement with Dassault and Thales.”
The new requirements were being looked at by a Technical Committee, and “we are working very hard to complete the process by end-2017 or early 2018,” he said .
The UAE Air Force has nearly 60 Mirage 2000-9, acquired in the 1980s and 1990s, only 42 are reportedly to be upgraded.
Asked about the Rafale aircraft which at one time appeared to be the winner but was not taken, Maj Gen Baloushi observed that “we have never closed our doors for this aircraft.”
“Discussions are on with major suppliers,” and, he agreed when asked, that “the Russian Su-35 is a serious contender.”
Russia has not sold combat aircraft yet to any of the Arab Gulf states. To Iran, and other Arab states like Egypt, Syria and Algeria, yes.
There were many aspects to acquitting a system – as you would know from the experience of the Indian Air Force (IAF) – with implications in capability, operations, finance and support. “Procurement deals take time and patience and once our Technical Teams are satisfied that our requirements are being met, we will take a decision.”
Maj Gen Baloushi said that the UAE Government is keen to ensure its armed forces are strong enough to protect the country from any threats, and that, is in fact the fundamental requirement. “We have never stopped modernizing and we want to ensure they have the best equipment and weapons.