x Abu Dhabi, UAE Friday 21 July 2017

The UAE is in talks about buying up to 25 F-16 Block 60 Desert Falcons, plus a further five of the twin-seat version of the aircraft.

The UAE is in talks about buying 25 F-16 Block 60 Desert Falcons, above. Jason Alden / Bloomberg News
The UAE is in talks about buying 25 F-16 Block 60 Desert Falcons, above. Jason Alden / Bloomberg News

Lockheed Martin is hopeful of securing the sale of F-16 fighter jets to the UAE in the “near term,” the chief executive of the world’s largest defence contractor said yesterday.

The UAE is in talks about buying 25 F-16 Block 60 Desert Falcons, plus a further five of the twin-seat version of the aircraft.

“There’s a strong interest in the F-16 but that’s a government to government matter so we follow the US government in that sale,” said Marillyn Hewson, the chief executive of Lockheed Martin, in an interview at Dubai Airshow yesterday. “We are hopeful as that programme moves along.”

Ms Hewson said she was optimistic a decision by the UAE Government on the fighter jets would be made in the “near term.”

The UAE operates 55 single-seat F-16E and 24 twin-seat F-16F aircraft, which it started receiving in 2004.

But following a visit by US defence secretary Chuck Hagel in April, the US defence department announced that the Emirates was planning to buy additional F-16s.

Kitted out with Northrop Grumman AN/APG-80 active electronically scanned array radar, the Block 60 aircraft are among the latest versions of the F-16, widely used by air forces around the world.

Iraq and Oman are also regional customers of the F-16.

But the delivery of the aircraft to Egypt has been held up after an escalation of the country’s crisis. The Pentagon delayed deliveries of the aircraft to the Egyptian air force this year. Cairo had ordered 20 F-16s.

“We have already sold them but it’s just a matter of when we can deliver them,” said Ms Hewson.

Lockheed Martin has been operating in the Middle East for half a century and is bidding to extend its presence across the defence and non-defence spectrum.

The UAE Government made Lockheed the preferred bidder earlier this year for a new air defence system, Diamond Shield, which will create a centralised command and control centre capable of running all aspects of a country’s air defence.

As the country decides whether to move ahead with a F-16 deal, the UAE is also involved in a procurement to replace its ageing Dassault Mirage 2000s.

Eurofighter Typhoon, built by a European consortium, and the French company Dassault’s Rafale are locked in a contest to supply about 60 fighter jets to the UAE Air Force.

tarnold@thenational.ae