The British government’s efforts to help broker a deal to supply Typhoon fighters to the United Arab Emirates extend far beyond the Dubai air show. Changes to visa requirements and support for Dubai’s Expo 2020 bid form part of a comprehensive campaign to deepen defense ties between the Gulf state and the U.K.
It may yet turn out to be a forlorn hope, but if the U.K.-led effort to secure a contract to sell around 60fighters to the UAE ultimately fails, it will not be for want of trying. No announcement is expected during the air show on what will be a complex deal involving extensive industrial and military collaboration, but the lobbying has been every bit as multifaceted and intense.
The visits to the Dubai air show of Prime Minister David Cameron and his defense secretary, Philip Hammond, have been merely the most visible aspects of a comprehensive effort, not just to promote sales of the aircraft but to forge a deeper relationship between the two nations.
Last week, the British government announced changes to visa requirements for UAE nationals that will make it much easier for Emiratis to enter the U.K. Previously, the process involved supplying biometric data and attending a visa application meeting: under the new system, due to be in place before the end of the year, UAE nationals can apply online up to 48 hours before travelling and obtain a visa waiver for free.
Other entreaties have been more subtle. During visits to the show, both Cameron and Hammond wore lapel badges backing Dubai’s bid to host the 2020 World Expo, and upon arrival in the Gulf, Cameron sent a tweet supporting the bid. A decision on the host city is due on Nov. 27, and success for the Dubai bid has become central to the emirate’s infrastructure plans. Much of the empty land between the southern flanks of Dubai city and Al Maktoum International Airport — the site of the air show — will be occupied by the 2020 Expo site, and a proposed extension of the Dubai metro rail system, estimated to cost up to 5 billion Dirham ($1.36 billion), appears to depend on a successful bid. Following a press conference at the air show on Sunday, Hammond pointed out to Aviation Week ShowNews that the U.K. was the first country to back Dubai’s bid.
Additionally, the news that the integration of the Storm Shadow cruise missile on to Typhoon had reached the flight test phase — as exclusively revealed by Aviation Week ShowNews on Sunday — provides another compelling reason for the UAE to select the. The country has a variant of Storm Shadow, designated Black Shaheen, in its inventory.
Meanwhile, military links between the nations continue to firm up, albeit in the background. Theuses Minhad Air Base as part of its air bridge between the U.K. and Afghanistan, and RAF Typhoons frequently visit Al-Dhafra for exercises.
“We don’t have any plans for a permanent presence,” Hammond said, “but I think over the last two or three years we’ve established a pattern of regular rotation where people are very familiar with the RAF being here, and the RAF are very familiar with working with their Emirati counterparts.”
In a Saturday speech to delegates at the Dubai International Air Chiefs Conference, Air Chief Marshal Sir Andrew Pulford, chief of the air staff for the RAF, echoed Hammond’s statement.
“Your [the UAE] neighborhood and mine are increasingly becoming one and the same,” Pulford said, adding that the U.K.’s and the UAE’s shared interests “run deep. Around 160,000 Britons now live in the Gulf region and around one million visit the UAE alone each year. The country also is home to 4,000 British businesses and there are strong educational links.”
Put together, these elements build a compelling case - not just for a UAE Typhoon buy, but for a deepening broader alliance between the U.K. and the Gulf nation.
“All of our discussions with the UAE around military collaboration are around building partnerships, and have been for some time,” Hammond says. “It’s certainly not simple equipment deals — it’s much more complex collaboration than that. And as we talk about these things and we understand each other better, that collaboration grows deeper.”