U.S. Fifth-Generation Fighters Will Return To UAE
The U.S. military will send fifth-generation fighters to the United Arab Emirates as that country is facing increased attacks from rebels in the region, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin announced following meetings with Emirati leaders.
The Pentagon has not identified the aircraft—Lockheed Martin F-22s or F-35s —or the units that will deploy to Al Dhafra Air Base. It will be the first time that U.S. fifth-generation fighters have deployed to the country since late 2020, when F-35As from Hill AFB, Utah, returned home after three consecutive deployments from the base. U.S. Air Force F-22s last deployed to the base in 2019.
Austin spoke Feb. 1 with Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Zayed Al Nahyan regarding recent rocket attacks against the UAE that caused civilian casualties and prompted U.S. missile defenses at Al Dhafra and Emirati systems to respond. The Pentagon in a statement said Austin reviewed how the DOD is supporting the UAE and agreed to provide early warning intelligence, collaborate on air defense, and send the U.S. Navy guided missile destroyer USS Cole to partner with the UAE Navy before a port call in Abu Dhabi.
“The secretary also informed the crown prince of his decision to deploy fifth-generation fighter aircraft to assist the UAE against the current threat and as a clear signal that the United States stands with the UAE as a long-standing partner,” the statement says.
Pentagon spokesman John Kirby on Feb. 2 would not rule out additional deployments and would not specify if the aircraft would have the authority to target missile launch sites inside Yemen. Deploying the aircraft and the Cole are “tangible ways” to help the UAE deal with serious threats, he said.
“We want to add to their ability to help defend themselves and to demonstrate clearly and tangibly our commitment to this important partnership,” Kirby said.
If the Pentagon selects F-35As for the deployment, it will come almost two years after engine maker Pratt & Whitney began outfitting the jet’s F135 engines with new coating to prevent the corrosion of blades that was discovered in aircraft that had deployed to the desert.
The possible deployment of F-35s to the UAE also comes as the Emirati government has paused discussions with the U.S. government over finalizing the foreign military sales deal of 50 F-35As and MQ-9s.