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Pakistani pilot deal linked to US block on UAE technology release

Plans by the United Arab Emirates air force to contract up to 200 Pakistan air force fighter pilots to fly F-16D Block 60 fighters it has ordered from Lockheed Martin are at the heart of the US Government's decision to block the release of sensitive technology to the Gulf state, say sources close to the deal.

The UAE needs experienced pilots for training and operation of 80 new fighters it plans to buy from Lockheed Martin and 63 new Dassault Mirage 2000-9 fighters purchased from France.

The USA and the UAE have been in protracted talks over the acquisition of the advanced Block 60 version of the F-16 since May last year, when the UAE selected the US-built fighter over the Dassault Rafale (below). Negotiations have stalled over Washington's refusal to release software source coding for the new generation Northrop Grumman APG-68 ABR radar for the Block 60, despite a UAE commitment to fund the radar's development as launch customer for the latest variant of the fighter.

 

Earlier this month, it appeared that the radar issue had been resolved, but that the transfer of source codes for the electronic warfare system were under the USA's export controls spotlight (Flight International, 10-17 March).

Further problems have emerged over US reluctance to allow Pakistani pilots to fly the aircraft and so gain access to its latest generation active array radar and electronic warfare technology.

The US Government has been at odds with Pakistan since Congress slapped an arms ban on Islamabad for its moves to develop nuclear weapons. The action resulted in the USA blocking delivery of 28 F-16A/Bs.

If the technology is not released under the Block 60 purchase, the UAE has said it will be forced to reopen the fighter competition.

Sources close to the Gulf state say a UAE delegation will hold up to two months of detailed talks with the US Department of Defense in Washington DC, starting on 15 April, to resolve the issue. "We are still studying the deal with our [US] friends," says Lt Gen Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, chief of staff of the UAE armed forces. "We have asked for certain requirements. If they are not met, then the UAE can go for other options."

Partly because of such statements, speculation was growing at the show that the UAE wants to evaluate the Eurofighter Typhoon and look again at the Dassault Rafale. British Aerospace originally provided the UAE with information on the Eurofighter but says it did not bid formally.

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