The United States may be in talks with the United Arab Emirates over a potential Lockheed Martin F-35 sale, but the US Air Force’s head of Central Command doubts the UAE would be able to operate the Joint Strike Fighter alongside a fifth-generation Russian fighter.
During a round table with reporters ahead of the Dubai Air Show, USAF officials confirmed that discussions between the US and UAE were ongoing over a possible F-35 sale. But the UAE’s loyalties appear split, after Abu Dhabi signed a memorandum of understanding with Russia in February to develop a fifth-generation fighter jet. While the USAF’s vice chief of staff declined to comment on whether that move could hinder an F-35 acquisition, his counterpart from Central Command said operating a mixed fleet of Russian and US stealth aircraft would prove challenging.
“Frankly I’m not sure it’s doable,” Lt Gen Jeffrey Harrigian told FlightGlobal at the annual Dubai International Air Chiefs Conference. “You can figure out a way to do it but we’re protected with what’s coming off the F-35… To try and introduce it into something that we don’t operate it with is not some place I would expect we’re going to go.”
Harrigian also acknowledged that the mixed fleet could exacerbate existing complexities on the F-35, such as the aircraft’s autonomic logistics information system (ALIS), which automatically sends data from the fighter back to Lockheed to streamline sustainment.
“There’s a whole litany of things that would impact beyond just the policy problem you’re going to have,” he says. “At the end of the day, it’s protecting our capabilities so that if your son or daughter is in that airplane, we haven’t given something away that an adversary could use against us in the future.”
Lockheed has previously toyed with the idea of operating the F-35 alongside Russian fighters. As recently as 2011, Lockheed offered a path to F-35 for India if New Delhi bought the F-16 Falcon. Until recently, India and Russia were partnered on India’s fifth-generation Perspective Multirole Fighter aircraft.