A top U.A.E. military official has said that the French Rafale jets it recently signed a contract for last week will complement the F-35 aircraft it plans to buy.
The Gulf Arab state ordered 80 Rafales and a dozen Caracal helicopters for $19 billion, making it the biggest ever weapons export contract for France. The contract for the fighters cast doubts on whether the U.A.E. would still go ahead and buy the F-35 from America, the jet for which it agreed to normalize relations with Israel, a country that had been opposing the deal. The F-35’s absence from the Dubai Airshow that took place in November, despite its interest in the jet, also puzzled experts.
Clearing the air, Major Gen. Ibrahim Nasser Al Alawi, commander of the U.A.E. Air Force and Air Defense, said in a statement on state news agency WAM late on Saturday that the Rafale jets would replace the country’s French-built Mirage 2000 fleet.
"This (Rafale) deal is not considered as an alternative for the forthcoming F-35 deal, it is rather a complementary deal ... as we develop our air force capabilities," Alawi said.
The sale of the 50 F-35 warplanes made by Lockheed Martin to the U.A.E. has slowed amid concerns in Washington over Abu Dhabi's relationship with China, including the use of Huawei 5G technology in the country besides its involvement in the Yemen war.
U.A.E.’s rivals - Qatar and Egypt - also have Rafale aircraft in their inventory. The former ordered 24 of the fighters in 2015, adding 12 more last year. It also has an option to buy 36 more. Cairo ordered 24 in 2015 and 30 earlier this year.