The United Arab Emirates Air Force and Air Defense is showing interest in fielding an unmanned combat air vehicle (UCAV), but not before first buying a next-generation fighter.

The timeline for the UCAV is likely to fall into the 2018 to 2025 timeframe, signals Maj. Gen. Ibrahim Naser Al Alawi, deputy commander UAE Air Force during the Dubai International Air Chiefs conference.

Preceding that acquisition are several other major system enhancements. Among them is the planned purchase of the Lockheed Martin Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense system. The UAE and U.S. governments have been in talks about Thaad for some time. A next-generation fighter is slated to be fielded around 2017.

The UAE is also looking to bolster its air defense capabilities by setting up an air operations center “in the coming year,” Al Alawi says. It is being designed to control all of the countries’ air forces.

Al Alawi notes that “future weapons system will need to be viewed in terms of their multi-mission capabilities.” And, he adds, they need to be more expeditionary in nature, reduce targeting times, have software and hardware that is easy to upgrade, and leverage dual-use civil and military technologies.

The UAE’s plans, in part, reflect the air force’s experience in its first out-of-area military operation when it participated with Mirage 2000-9s and F-16Es in the NATO-led military campaign in Libya. The service’s C-17s also were used in support roles. The lessons include the need to acquire air and ground communications systems that can better integrate into command and control nodes, Al Alawi says, as well as the need for a stronger communication plan for non-NATO members to work with alliance members, increased use of exchange officers, and more information and technology sharing.

Moreover, he signals growing interest in the use of unmanned aircraft, more versatility in intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance systems, as well as other systems, such as fielding a signals intelligence pod. Recent conflicts show “increased need for more rapid and effective targeting process and more accurate and effective strike weapons,” he adds.