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More F-35 Stealth Fighters Are Headed to the Middle East

Capt. Andrew “Dojo” Olson, F-35 Heritage Flight Team pilot and commander, performs a high-speed pass during the Canadian International Air Show in Toronto, Sept. 1, 2018. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Alexander Cook)

This week the White House told Congress that it will proceed with a more than $23 billion deal to sell weapons to the United Arab Emirates (UAE), which includes the Lockheed Martin F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.

According to a U.S. State Department spokesperson, the Biden administration will move forward with the deal even as it is reviewing the details and consulting with Emirati officials on the potential use of the weapons.

President Joe Biden had paused the deal, which had been made before the November election by then President Donald J. Trump. The sales were finalized right before Trump left office in January.

Additionally, the Trump administration had told Congress just after the election that it had approved the sale as a side deal to the U.S.-brokered Abraham Accords in September, which led to the UAE’s normalization of relations with the state of Israel. In the final months of the Trump administration, Israel had reached similar normalization deals with the UAE, Bahrain, Sudan and Morocco as part of those accords.

Art of the Deal

The $23.37 billion deal with the UAE includes products from Lockheed Martin, which will include a total of fifty of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighters, as well as hardware from General Atomics and Raytheon including up to eighteen MQ-9B Unmanned Aerial System (UAS) drones and upwards of thousands of air-to-air and air-to-ground munitions.

According to a report from The Jerusalem Post, some lawmakers in Washington have expressed concerns about how the weapons supplied as part of the massive deal might be used. Among those concerns is that the military hardware could be used by the UAE in its war with Yemen, which is now considered one of the world’s worst humanitarian disasters.

Additionally, there has been a worry that the weapons transfers could violate U.S. guarantees that Israel is able to maintain a military advantage in the region. The Biden administration announced the review in January.

In December, the New York Center for Foreign Policy Affairs (NYCFPA) even filed a legal claim that the Trump administration failed to provide a reasonable explanation for its decision to sell F-35 fighter jets and other weapons to the UAE, which would place it in breach of the Administrative Procedure Act, DefenseNews reported.

However, while Israel had expressed concerns when the deal was first announced, Jerusalem has not objected to the sales. The Israeli Air Force has been the sole operator in the region of the Lockheed Martin-built fifth-generation fighter, utilizing a domestically modified version, the F-35I “Adir,” which is in service with two fighter squadrons and possibly a third in the works.

The deal now appears to be moving forward, but it could be a while before the hardware actually heads out to the Middle East. On Tuesday the State Department announced that the estimated delivery dates on the UAE sales, once fully implemented, would be after 2025 or later. Part of the delay will be due to the “robust and sustained dialog” with the UAE promised by the administration – the goal of which is to ensure a stronger security partnership.

“Projected delivery dates on these sales, if eventually implemented, will be several years in the future,” the State Department said in a statement. “Thus, we anticipate a robust and sustained dialogue with the UAE to any defense transfers meet our mutual strategic objectives to build a stronger, interoperable, and more capable security partnership.

“We will also continue to reinforce with the UAE and all recipients of U.S. defense articles and services that US-origin defense equipment must be adequately secured and used in a manner that respects human rights and fully complies with the laws of armed conflict,” the statement added.

The deal with the UAE isn’t the only one undergoing review. Aljazeera reported that the Biden administration is also reviewing its policy for military sales to Saudi Arabia, and that also includes some Trump-era weapons deals.

Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer who has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers and websites. He regularly writes about military small arms, and is the author of several books on military headgear including A Gallery of Military Headdress, which is available on

Written By

Expert Biography: A Senior Editor for 1945, Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer who has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers, and websites with over 3,000 published pieces over a twenty-year career in journalism. He regularly writes about military hardware, firearms history, cybersecurity, and international affairs. Peter is also a Contributing Writer for Forbes. You can follow him on Twitter: @PeterSuciu.