Sunday, December 22, 2013

UAE Halts BAE's Typhoon Fighter Bid

By Bill Sweetman, 
Jen DiMascio

Credit: BAE Systems

The U.K., which has hoped to sell Eurofighter Typhoons to the UAE, has learned that any potential deal is at least on hold.

“The UAE have advised that they have elected not to proceed with these proposals at this time,” says a note to prime contractor BAE Systems’s investors. The U.K. had been negotiating with UAE for the sale of about 60 aircraft, with Prime Minister David Cameron traveling to the Dubai air show in the hopes of lobbying for BAE’s bid to sell the fighter jets.

In addition to the Typhoon, Dassault’s Rafale and Boeing’s F-18 Super Hornet are contending for the UAE’s fighter contract. The news comes one day after Brazil announced it would purchase 36 Saab Gripens.

The move cannot be anything except bad news for Typhoon, which in the last two years has been defeated by the Rafale in India, the F-15 and then the F-35 in Korea, the F-35 in Japan and the Gripen in Switzerland. Typhoon is still a candidate in Qatar, which has increased its requirement to as many as 72 aircraft, and is in the running for a 30-aircraft order in Denmark (against Gripen, Super Hornet and F-35).

Whether the decision indicates that a UAE Rafale buy is close is unclear. According to French press reports, the country’s defense minister, Jean-Yves Le Drian, said on Dec. 18 — before the BAE announcement was made public — that there would be “results soon” concerning both a contract for Rafale in India and sales in the Gulf.

Reports that UAE is moving toward requesting the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter may be premature, however, because of political sensitivity and the power of Israel’s lobbyists in Washington. Earlier this year, the UAE was even denied the AGM-158 stealth cruise missile, a much lower-tech system than JSF, and was instead offered the AGM-84H Standoff Land Attack Missile - Expanded Response weapon.

But while the UAE procurement is little more than a two-horse race between the Typhoon and the Dassault Rafale, in nearby Qatar the government raised the stakes and increased the planned size of its future fighter buy to as many as 72 aircraft, compared with its current fleet of 12 Mirage 2000s.

Qatari evaluation teams are understood to have flown the Typhoon, Rafale, and Super Hornet along with other competitors, but few details of the program have been released. It could have a major effect on the fighter scene because a Boeing deal would rescue the F/A-18E/F line. Absent further orders, the line will start to shut down in March. Kuwait also has a requirement for new fighters to replace its legacy F/A-18C/D Hornets, but a decision may not come before 2015.

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