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Emirati Air Force & Defence Command Modernization

Since 1980s a combination of regional instability and high oil prices has resulted in an ambitious re-equipment and modernization of the UAE Air Force, with its scope being to reach a level of capability at highest NATO standards. Some of the US-Gulf state defense cooperation that had begun during the Clinton Administration but since languished as the U.S. focused on the post-September 11, 2001 wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

In a December 8, 2007 speech in Bahrain, Secretary Gates said the "Gulf Security Dialogue" has six key pillars including arms sales is to improve Gulf state missile defense capabilities, for example by sales of the upgraded Patriot Advanced Capability-3 (PAC-3), as well as to improve border and maritime security equipment through of littoral combatships, radar systems, and communications gear. The initial sales, including PAC-3 related sales to UAE and Kuwait and Joint Direct Attack Munitions (JDAMs) to Saudi Arabia and UAE, were notified to Congress in December 2007 and January 2008. A sale to UAE of the very advanced Theater High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) had also been notified.

By 2007 the UAE had expressed interest in purchasing the following potentially offensive and defensive weapons systems (in estimated order of UAE priority):

  1. Armed Predator B (note MTCR issues);
  2. THAAD/ER-THAAD (est. case value $1.5-3.9 billion), and investment in the development of ER-THAAD (investment amounts as high as $1 billion have been mentioned);
  3. SLAMRAAM (to upgrade/replace HAWK missiles) (est. case value $400-700 million);
  4. Patriot PAC3/GEM-T (est. case value $5.5 billion);
  5. AVENGER/STINGER missiles vehicle/ship (mounted) (est. case value $200-300 million);
  6. Airborne Early Warning and Control (AEW&C) E2-C Hawkeye (lease of 3 aircraft for 5 years as an interim fix until AEW&C platform delivered)(est. case value $150-200 million);
  7. AEW&C platform (Boeing "Wedgetail" or Northrop-Grumman E2-D "Hawkeye") (est. case value $1.5-2.0 billion for aircraft plus a 20 year follow on support contract est. at $1 billion);
  8. Maritime surveillance aircraft (est. case value $100-200 million); and
  9. Command and control upgrades (SEW, CENTRIX, LINK 11/16, GCCS-M) (est. case value depends on which platforms LINK 11/16 are integrated on, such as F-16 block 60s, AEW&C, etc.).

The UAE is also seeking a package of Boeing Co EA-18G Growlers, an electronic warfare version of the two-seat F/A-18F Super Hornet aircraft, that are capable of jamming radar and other advanced capabilities. Growlers are operated by the US and Australia.

Transport Aircraft

A military version of the Airbus A330 passenger airliner, the Multi Role Tanker Transport (MRTT), is designed as both a transport and an air-to-air refuelling aircraft. Having ordered three MRTT planes in early 2008, the UAE will receive the first of them in December 2011.

Boeing said 06 January 2010 that it had won a contract from the United Arab Emirates (UAE) for six C-17 military aircraft, making the UAE the second Middle Eastern nation to order the airlifter. UAE will take delivery of four C-17s in 2011 and two in 2012 in the deal, whose "fi nancial terms are not being disclosed," Boeing and the UAE said in a joint statement. The C-17 Globemaster III advanced airlifter can carry large combat equipment and troops or humanitarian aid across international distances to small "austere" airfi elds anywhere in the world, the company said.

Besides Israel and Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) are the largest importers of defense articles and services in the Middle East. Both nations had been spending heavily on defense since the Gulf crises of the 1990s. The UAE is the fi rst and only Arab country in the Middle East to partner with the U.S. defense industry (Northrop Grumman) by investing $500 million to develop new, Active Electronically Scan Array (AESA) radar for F-16 fighters. Any future sales would provide royalty revenue for the kingdom.


The Government of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) plans to buy 24 new Brazilian turboprop attack aircraft Super Tucano. This was reported by the newspaper National 16 January 2015. The aircraft will be used in combat operations against the terrorist organizations in the region. "One of the main advantages of this aircraft is the ability to operate for long periods without refueling at a considerable distance from the base, - said the American expert Daniel Magarian. - It performed well in terms of attacking ground targets from low altitudes." United Arab Emirates play an active role in the Washington-led coalition against the terrorist group "Islamic state" in Iraq and Syria. UAE Air Force regularly conduct military operations against extremists on Iraqi territory.

MQ-9B Reaper UAV

On 06 November 2020 the United States’s State Department gave Congress notification it planned to sell 18 sophisticated armed MQ-9B aerial drones to the United Arab Emirates in a deal worth as much as $2.9bn, people briefed on the matter have told the Reuters news agency. The move came on the heels of last week’s notification of a potential sale of F-35 fighter jets to the oil-rich Gulf state and one of Washington’s closest Middle East allies. The sale would mark the first armed drone export since the Trump administration reinterpreted the Cold War-era Missile Technology Control Regime arms agreement between 34 nations to allow US defence contractors to sell more drones to allies. The armed MQ-9B drones will also be equipped with maritime radar and could be delivered in 2024. The package notified to Congress is for 15 with an option for three additional drones, one of the people said.

The US did allow the export version of its Predator UAV, which is unarmed, to be exported to the UAE. This did not satisfy Abu Dhabi which long wanted the Reaper as part of its arsenal. The UAE felt they have been fighting the enemies of the US and should therefore have access to those advanced systems. It turned instead to China, which was more than happy to help.

Air Defense

According to the United Arab Emirates (UAE), the country is in the final stage of negotiations with South Korea to buy the M-SAM air defense missile system in a deal likely to reach $3.5 billion. Tariq Abdul Rahim Al Hosani, CEO of the Tawazun Economic Council, confirmed to Gulf Today 17 November 2021 that the both sides are “close to concluding a final agreement.” An official at South Korea’s Defense Acquisition Program Administration (DAPA) called the UAE’s announcement “positive” but noted negotiations have yet to be finalized. The M-SAM, a core element of South Korea's multi-layered anti-missile program, aims to intercept incoming hostile ballistic missiles at low altitudes of around 20 kilometers. The M-SAM (Cheongung, Cheolmae-2) was developed by the Agency for Defense Development (ADD) with technical support from Almaz-Antey and Fakel, based on technology from the 9M96 missile used on S-350E and S-400 missile systems. Localization and industrialization were done in South Korea enough to consider it an indigenous system.

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Page last modified: 24-02-2022 18:36:49 ZULU