Tim Ripley/DUBAI

A $7 billion deal to supply the United Arab Emirates air force with 80 Lockheed Martin F-16 Fighting Falcon combat aircraft and hi-tech missiles is still in the balance almost 18 months after being announced.

Lockheed Martin spokesman Joe Stout confirms that the contract has not yet been signed despite predictions by the American defence giant that it would be completed by the end of last year.

"So far we have nothing scheduled right now," Stout says. "We are continuing to talk to representatives of the UAE government."

Stout says the company hopes to sign the contract "later this year." The contract for the F-16 airframes will also need to go through the US Congressional approval process.

There is intense industry speculation that the UAE is still not happy at the refusal by some branches of the US government to authorise the release of computer source codes for many of the advanced weapons systems and radar being offered on the F-16s.

Funding problems due to the recent low oil price are also believed to have delayed the deal.

The UAE is the launch customer for the newest version of the F-16, which incorporates a number of new systems and technologies. "The development of new features that make up the Block 60 will ensure the F-16 remains the world's most capable multirole fighter until the next-generation Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) enters service," says Lockheed Martin.

The upgrade package consists of a range of modern systems including conformal fuel tanks for greater range, new cockpit displays, an internal sensor suite, a new mission computer and other advanced features including a new agile beam radar.

In 1998 Lockheed Martin said aircraft deliveries were expected to begin in 2002 if a contract was signed later that year.

In early September 1998, the Pentagon said that it had offered a variety of Raytheon products to the UAE under a Foreign Military Sales contract to equip the F-16s. This element of the UAE F-16 programme has already received US Congressional approval.

Among the weapons on offer were 491 Advanced Medium-Range Air-to-Air Missiles; 163 High Speed Anti-Radiation (HARM) missiles, used by aircraft to strike ground radar; 1,163 Maverick anti-tank missiles; and 1,673 Paveway laser guided bombs of different types.

Source: Flight Daily News