Pentagon concerned about UAE’s deepening military ties with China, but won’t cancel F-35 sales

The U.S. Department of Defense has expressed concern about the United Arab Emirates, a Middle East ally, advancing its military ties with China, but will not cancel plans to sell F-35 fifth-generation warplanes to the UAE because of that concern for now.

Pentagon spokesman John Kirby was asked at a regular press conference Tuesday (May 25, 2021) whether he was concerned about the UAE’s deepening military ties with China and whether that concern would prompt the Defense Department to reevaluate plans to sell F-35 fifth-generation warplanes to the UAE.

Kirby said, “We are engaged in a comprehensive security dialogue with the UAE, during which we were able to raise any concerns, and we did so. This is our way of discussing how best to protect our national security interests.”

He added, “We have indicated that we will not stop or withdraw the sale of F-35 fifth-generation fighters as a result.”

In an effort to incentivize the UAE to normalize relations with Israel, the former Trump administration approved a $23 billion arms sale of 50 F-35 fifth-generation fighter jets, 18 Reaper drones and advanced weapons and ammunition to the UAE before it left office.

The Biden administration re-evaluated the arms sale to the UAE after taking office in January because U.S. intelligence indicated that the UAE and China were deepening their military cooperation, and decided to maintain the sale, but asked the UAE to ensure that it would not give other countries, especially China, access to advanced U.S. military technology.

UAE Ambassador to the United States Otaiba (Yousef Otaiba) said that the UAE has a long track record of protecting U.S. military technology.

According to the plan, the sale of F-35 warplanes to the UAE will be delivered in 2027. It is believed that the Biden administration believes this will give the U.S. side enough time to deal with concerns that sensitive military technology may be leaked because of this arms sale.