AMERICAN-MADE FIGHTER jets with features more advanced than those on similar aircraft flown by U.S. pilots will be exported to the United Arab Emirates (U.A.E.) under the terms of contractual agreements signed March 5 between the Persian Gulf state and the U.S. aerospace company Lockheed Martin. First announced in May 1998, the estimated $6.4 billion deal calls for delivery of 80 F-16C/D aircraft to the U.A.E. starting in 2004. U.S. government and military officials at the highest levels supported and lobbied for the sale.
Vice President Al Gore's office, in a March 5 announcement, lauded the deal and praised the company's estimate that the sale will generate "100,000 man-years of direct employment" in 40 states. Gore, who actively urged the U.A.E. to buy the aircraft, said the deal "shows us again how American mastery of high technology is essential to both advancing our economic growth and protecting our national security." In February 1995, the Clinton administration became the first administration to explicitly state that an export's impact on U.S. industry would be a criterion for evaluating arms sales.
Unless the U.S. Congress blocks the sale—an unlikely step given that congressional support has been carefully cultivated and that key Republican leaders in the House of Representatives are from Texas, where the plane is built—U.A.E. pilots will be the first ever to fly the F-16C/D Block 60 platform. Once officially notified of the sale, Congress will have 30 days, in accordance with the 1976 Arms Export Control Act, to pass a joint resolution of disapproval to block the deal—an option it has never exercised. Congress already let the fighter's planned $2 billion weapons-system package, notified in September 1998, pass without action.
The weapons-system package is being sold through the Pentagon's Foreign Military Sales (FMS) program, administered by the Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA), while the aircraft sale is being carried out directly between the company and the U.A.E. as a commercial sale. Sales of advanced equipment typically are handled through FMS, but a DSCA spokesperson explained that the U.A.E. "stated a strong preference for commercial contracts."
Tailored to U.A.E. specifications, the Block 60 platform will include additional fuel tanks for extended range, a new electronic warfare system, a new mission computer, new cockpit displays, a new internal sensor suite, and a new Agile Beam Radar for improved tracking of multiple targets at longer ranges. A U.S. Air Force spokesperson described the new radar as "along the evolutionary path toward" the radar systems planned for future U.S. fighters.
The DSCA spokesperson said the Block 60 will be "the finest multirole fighter available on the world market in the early 2000s" and that it will be "representative of the state of the art in fighter weapons systems by the time it will be delivered." The spokesperson, however, contended the Block 60 "is not the only multirole fighter available with individual technologies of the type it offers."
The United States currently flies Block 40 and 50 platforms, but has no plans, according to the U.S. Air Force spokesperson, to upgrade to the Block 60 platform because of budget constraints. Air Force funding is devoted to bringing the F-22 and Joint Strike Fighter into service in 2005 and 2010, respectively.
All the military branches, including the U.S. Air Force, reviewed and approved the U.A.E. sale. Both Defense Secretary William Cohen and Commerce Secretary William Daley, as well as their predecessors, visited the U.A.E. and supported the sale.
The strong U.S. government lobbying effort stemmed from the fact that throughout the negotiations over the fighter's features, the U.A.E. warned that they would take their buy elsewhere if their requests for advanced weaponry and technology were not met. In December 1997, the U.A.E. bought 30 advanced French Mirage 2000-9 fighters and upgrades for another 33 older Mirages.
U.A.E. interest in advanced fighters can be traced to the 1991 Persian Gulf War following Iraq's invasion of Kuwait. In explaining the U.A.E.'s continued interest in the F-16 fighter, the DSCA spokesperson noted the U.A.E. has "historically been concerned about large nation-states in the region that have threatened their neighbors in the recent past." The U.A.E. Defense Minister, according to Defense News, told an arms show audience last November that neither Iran nor Iraq posed a threat to the Persian Gulf region, though Iran is understood to be the primary U.A.E. concern.
U.S. officials, in general, contend the sale is in the interests of both the U.A.E. and the United States. Gore claimed the U.A.E. "will reap immense national security benefits from the F-16," while at the same time advancing U.S. interests by "equipping an important Gulf ally with an advanced fighter jet that can help deter aggression in the region."