Eurofighter sales effort spearheads London's push to build Persian Gulf region partnerships
While the U.K.'s hopes of securing a United Arab Emirates deal for were not realized at the Dubai Airshow late last month, the work toward such a sale is only part of London's ongoing strategy to build partnerships in the Persian Gulf region.
The push to sell the Typhoon to the UAE—led byand backed by the British government—was unlikely to have resulted in a decision in time for the air show, despite the advance excitement about a potential Typhoon deal. The purse strings for defense are held down the road from Dubai, in Abu Dhabi, and a fighter selection by leaders there may be months down the line.
If the U.K. eventually fails to sell the Typhoon to the UAE, it would not be for want of trying. The visits of U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron and Defense Minister Phillip Hammond to the Dubai Airshow were the most visible aspects of a broad effort to woo UAE government officials. The U.K. also announced at the air show comprehensive changes to visa requirements for UAE nationals, making it easier for Emiratis to enter the country. In addition, the U.K. supported the UAE's bid to host the 2020 World Expo, a project that will be central to Dubai's infrastructure plans.
British officials recognize that the Typhoon bid is not just about selling aircraft but also about building a partnership with the armed forces of the UAE and other countries in the region, particularly as the U.K. leads the sales push for the Typhoon in several key Persian Gulf states.
UAE commanders reportedly want to benefit from the expertise of—and train with—Western air arms, even as they are being courted by aircraft manufacturers and governments alike. France's decision to base fighters at Al-Dhafra airbase partly stemmed from the expectation that the UAE would buy the. But locating U.K. forces and aircraft in the UAE has obvious political ramifications given past decisions about the basing of British forces east of Suez. Senior officers say they do not have enough Typhoons to base any in the UAE, and if they did, they would face the challenge of managing the host nation's expectations should based aircraft be required elsewhere.
However, the U.K. already has a virtually permanent presence in the UAE without actually declaring it. British Typhoons have taken part in every one of the 20 Advanced Tactical Leadership Courses run by the UAE air force's Air Warfare Center at Al-Dhafra airbase, and the 21st course began during the Dubai Airshow. This arrangement means the U.K. can move assets in and out of the country freely and still be in a position to support a partnership if adeal is signed.
Meanwhile, Emiratis generally do not see the country's next fighter aircraft as a subject of critical importance. They are more concerned about the intentions of their neighbors over the water in Iran and how the ongoing civil conflict in Syria will change the landscape in the region, particularly as the U.S. moves its focus toward the Pacific and away from the Middle East.
Another issue that could still influence a Typhoon deal is the interest in theJoint Strike Fighter (JSF) expressed by the UAE and other Persian Gulf nations. They may wait to see if the JSF becomes an available option, once Israel receives its first F-35s in the coming years. The and were not approved for sale to Persian Gulf countries until about five years after the Israelis received them.
British officials argue that an F-35 sale would likely be a replacement for the UAE's advanced F-16s, given the JSF's offense role.is awaiting word on whether a follow-on order for another 25 F-16E/Fs will be fulfilled.
Other opportunities remain for the Typhoon. Prior to the Dubai air show, Hammond said he had been involved in “fruitful” talks with the Bahraini authorities regarding the aircraft, but the biggest opportunity may come from Qatar, which plans to expand its fighter fleet to 72 aircraft from its current 12Mirage 2000s. The Qatari air force's close ties with France, though, established during operations over Libya in 2011, present a challenge for the Eurofighter consortium. Still, U.K. officials believe there are opportunities as British businesses make deeper inroads into Qatar, such as a recent £4 billion ($6.5 billion) liquefied natural gas deal to boost the U.K.'s energy security.
—With Angus Batey in London