Dubai 09: UAE reveals fifth-generation fighter ambitions

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A top United Arab Emirates military leader aspires to obtain a fifth-generation fighter in the very near term, suggesting a potential new sales coup for the Lockheed Martin F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.

"I hope that within a couple years the UAE, like many other countries, will have a fifth-generation fighter," says Brig Gen Ibrahim Naser Alalawi, deputy commander of the UAE Air Force and Air Defence. Alalawi was speaking at the Dubai International Air Chiefs conference held yesterday morning at Dubai's Knowledge Village Conference Centre.

Lockheed's F-35 is expected to be the only fifth-generation fighter available for sale for perhaps another decade. The Chinese J-12 and the Russian/Indian PAK-FA remain in the early stages of development.

The UAE has previously not been named among the several countries - including the UK, Australia and Israel - planning to buy the first export F-35s scheduled for delivery after 2013.

Ibrahim made the remark in the context of delivering a speech on the UAE's requirements for filling a capability gap with a new generation of advanced jet trainers. The UAE has selected the Alenia Aermacchi M-346 as a lead-in trainer for its new Lockheed F-16E/F Block 60s.

The US Air Force, meanwhile, is considering buying the M-346 as the last step for building up the skills of future F-35 pilots.

Alalawi did not elaborate beyond expressing his hope that the UAE will own a fifth-generation fighter. Subsequent slides showed pictures of the Lockheed F-22 and F-35. US law prohibits Lockheed from selling the F-22 abroad, but the US government strongly supports foreign sales of the F-35 to its allies.

It was not immediately clear how Alalawi's remarks could influence support among UAE military leaders to acquire another advanced fourth-generation fighter - the Dassault Rafale - even sooner.

Lockheed originally projected F-35 sales in the Middle East in programme briefing slides dating back to 2002. But more recently the company has declined opportunities to name the UAE as a near-term sales target. The F-35 is not even on display at Lockheed (stand E450), which is instead dominated by a model of the F-16.