About One Hour Before Biden Takes Office UAE Signs Deal With U.S. To Buy 50 F-35s and 18 MQ-9s

A USAF F-35A departs from Nellis Air Force Base (Image credit: Author)

UAE has inked an agreement with the U.S. to purchase 50 F-35 jets and up to 18 MQ-9B drones.

Few hours before Biden’s inauguration, “the UAE has signed an agreement with the United States to purchase 50 F-35 jets and up to 18 armed drones, people familiar with the situation told Reuters” on Wednesday Jan. 20, 2021.

The deal is estimated at more than 23 billion USD, and includes 50 F-35As (10.4B), 18 MQ-9Bs (2.9B) and air-to-air and air-to-ground weapons (10B).

The deal has been in the pipeline for months with a closing initially targeted by December. However, the extended negotiation took longer than expected and a letter of agreement was successfully inked just about one hour before President Joseph Biden took office. The arms sale to UAE was one of the final acts of the Trump administration. However, whereas the Senate has rejected an attempt to block the arms sale to UAE in December, the new president has already made it clear that he will re-examine the agreements.

“The UAE, one of Washington’s closest Middle East allies, has long expressed interest in acquiring the stealthy F-35 jets made by Lockheed Martin and was promised a chance to buy them in a side deal when it agreed to normalize relations with Israel last August,” Reuters reported.

“Under American law, Israel is guaranteed weapons needed to maintain its ‘qualitative military edge’ over Arab nations. U.S. officials have said they can provide that assurance regardless of F-35 sales without specifying publicly what they would offer Israel,” Bloomberg.com said in October 2020. In fact, UAE will receive a “baseline” F-35A that would maintain a technological advantage for Israel’s highly customized F-35I Adir version of the aircraft.

A side image of the F-35I test article. (Image credit: Amit Agronov / IAF)

The news of the deal, that has been in the air for some time, follows the Letter of Request (LOR) sent by the Greek government to the U.S. Department of Defense, to purchase a total of 18-24 jets (new or used by the US Air Force, if available), to be delivered in 2021. The letter, dated November 6, 2020, came less than a month after the claims by Greek media that the Hellenic Air Force would receive in 2022 six F-35s originally built for Turkey as part of a larger order of 20 aircraft.

About David Cenciotti
David Cenciotti is a journalist based in Rome, Italy. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviationist”, one of the world’s most famous and read military aviation blogs. Since 1996, he has written for major worldwide magazines, including Air Forces Monthly, Combat Aircraft, and many others, covering aviation, defense, war, industry, intelligence, crime and cyberwar. He has reported from the U.S., Europe, Australia and Syria, and flown several combat planes with different air forces. He is a former 2nd Lt. of the Italian Air Force, a private pilot and a graduate in Computer Engineering. He has written five books and contributed to many more ones.