The United Arab Emirates (UAE) Air Force and Air Defence has outlined a long-term acquisition strategy that includes fielding a next-generation fighter and an unmanned combat air vehicle (UCAV) between 2018 and 2025.

Both requirements were revealed for the first time at the Dubai International Air Chiefs' Conference on 12 November during a presentation by deputy air force chief Maj Gen Ibrahim Naser al-Alawi.

The UAE has been one of the world's biggest spenders on combat aircraft over the last 10 years, and is close to acquiring new batches of fighters, trainers, air control aircraft, airlifters and armed helicopters.

Al-Alawi's presentation made clear that the air force has no intention of slowing its modernisation, even after completing its current list of planned acquisitions.

According to al-Alawi, the next major requirement for the UAE will be the acquisition before 2013 of an unarmed unmanned air system (UAS) for intelligence gathering. The UAE is known to be actively considering the General Atomics Aeronautical Systems' Predator XP and the Turkish Aerospace Industries' (TAI) Anka.

Its next priority will be setting up an air operations centre in 2013 and a terminal high-altitude area defence missile system shortly afterwards.

Beyond those are even more ambitious requirements.

The UAE's air force operates the world's most advanced version of the Lockheed Martin F-16, and is negotiating a deal with France to buy as many as 60 Dassault Rafales. Al-Alawi's presentation did not address the ongoing talks on the Rafale, but he confirmed the UAE's long-term interests in acquiring a next-generation fighter. The new aircraft would be introduced in the 2018 timeframe, according to a briefing slide shown during his presentation.

Al-Alawi did not reveal details of the UAE's requirements for the next-generation fighter. However, two years ago at the same event, he revealed the UAE's interest in buying fifth-generation fighter technology. Images of the Lockheed F-35 and F-22 were included in the 2009 briefing, although the latter aircraft is scheduled to cease production in a few months.

The US government has never formally offered the F-35 to the UAE, but in 2007, the F-35 joint programme office included the UAE on a briefing slide showing potential buyers of the aircraft, along with Bahrain, Jordan, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia in the region.

Al-Alawi did not directly address the ongoing competition between the Northrop Grumman E-2D Advanced Hawkeye and Boeing 737 airborne early warning and control system aircraft for a UAE contract. But al-Alawi's briefing slides twice showed an image of the E-2 to represent an "air control" platform of the future.

Source: Flight Daily News