The end of this year could well be marked by the sale of a European fighter to a Gulf Cooperation Council state: Oman. A long-awaited deal may well be concluded for Muscat to buy 12 Eurofighter Typhoons to complement its existing fleet of US-built F-16s. With US and European defence budgets under pressure for the foreseeable future, combat aircraft manufacturers are pursuing any export opportunity with increasing vigour. And there remains the tantalising possibility for the four Eurofighter nations – Italy, Germany, Spain and the UK – of a larger order in the United Arab Emirates.
Of course, neither the sale to Oman or the UAE is guaranteed. Just over 12 months ago there was widespread anticipation that the UAE was on the brink of an order for the Dassault Rafale, perhaps for up to 60 aircraft. However, that deal unravelled at the last moment, when the UAE took the highly unusual step of publicly criticising the French aerospace company for offering an ‘uncompetitive and unworkable’ bid.
Despite warm relations with the UAE royal family, then-French President Nicolas Sarkozy was unable to bridge the gap. President Francois Hollande, who succeeded Sarkozy in May 2012, is not thought to have yet forged a similarly close relationship with the UAE, and it is hard to tell what the effect will be on the company’s fortunes in the Emirates when Dassault’s robust chief executive, Charles Edelstenne, retires in January 2013.
While the Rafale remains a clear contender for the UAE, its 2011 rejection has given rivals renewed opportunities to approach the UAE Defence Ministry.
UK Prime Minister David Cameron has visited the UAE twice since 2010, reportedly faring much better than his Labour predecessor, Gordon Brown, did on a trip in late 2008. Closer defence ties between the UK and UAE were discussed during Cameron’s most recent visit in November 2012, when a ‘defence industrial partnership’ was signed that focused on the Typhoon and other unspecified ‘new technologies’. But while the language was encouraging on the Eurofighter, it was far from a commitment to procure the aircraft. (end of excerpt)
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