The US government is discussing the potential sale of Lockheed Martin F-35 Joint Strike Fighters with the United Arab Emirates, the US Air Force’s vice chief of staff has confirmed.
After the Obama administration pushed back on a previous request from the UAE, the possibility of an F-35 sale appears to have gained renewed traction under President Donald Trump.
In an interview with reporters on the eve of the Dubai air show, Gen Stephen Wilson confirmed news reports on the preliminary discussions with the UAE.
“As you look here in the Middle East they share common threats and so we’re looking at options on who we share those [F-35s] within the Gulf,” Wilson says. “So the discussions are ongoing now with the new administration on selling F-35s to partner nations that need them and require them.”
In February, Abu Dhabi signed a memorandum of understanding with Russia to develop a fifth-generation fighter jet, potentially hindering any F-35 sale. However, Wilson declines to comment on the issue.
Operating a mixed inventory of American and Russian fighters is not unprecedented, although the fleets do not often include stealth aircraft. Malaysia flies both Boeing F/A-18s and Sukhoi Su-30s; Egypt operates F-16s and MiG-21s; and Pakistan uses F-16s and Chinese-built JF-17s.
Israeli objections could also quash any potential sale of the F-35 to the UAE. But even a sale to an adversary in the Gulf may not erode Tel Aviv's qualitative military edge, since deliveries would not begin in the near term.
The Israeli air force received its initial batch of Joint Strike Fighters earlier this year and deliveries of all 50 aircraft are expected to be complete in 2027.