My coffee slurp was ambushed by a seemingly "gone rogue" quote by a Lockheed Martin guy yesterday at the Bahrain airshow. I had to re-read it a few times just to make sure I was interpreting it correctly. But, yes, there it was at the bottom of the following excerpt:
Some of you might be thinking, "Well, that's just common sense, isn't it?" Perhaps. But I don't question the logic. I myself attempted to extract the same basic statement from Lockheed executives at the Dubai Airshow in November, especially after the United Arab Emirates unexpectedly let it slip that Abu Dhabi is now on board the fifth-generation fighter bandwagon. I got bupkiss. Lockheed didn't bring so much as an F-35 brochure to Dubai, and executives stayed rigidly on message. Talking about an Israel sale opening up the Arab market for F-35s was not part of that message, whether it happened to be true or not.
"Israel is extremely interested and we very much hope that we will make a deal with Israel for F-35s this year," Patrick Dewar, a corporate vice president at Lockheed Martin told Reuters at the Bahrain air show.
"When we talk about Israel, somewhere between 75 and 100 jets," he said, when asked to estimate the size of the market for F-35s.
Dewar also said he expected more countries in the region to express interest for the plane that is designed to replace F-16s and F-18s fighter jets.
"I think very shortly after that there are going to be a series of countries here in the Gulf region that will also publicly state their interest in F-35s and the United States government will start talking to them about it," he said.
Now the statement is "out there", so we can discus the implications. The UAE, Kuwait, Qatar, Oman and Saudi Arabia are each in various stages of negotiations over fighter sales. The Dassault Rafale figures prominently in these talks, as does the Lockheed F-16 and Boeing F-15. If Israel completes a deal for F-35s this year, which mind you is a big 'if', could the F-35 suddenly become the new darling of the Arab world?