US defence firm Lockheed Martin clinched a US$1.6 billion order with the UAE government to upgrade F-16 fighter jets and expects to ink more deals as tensions in the Arabian Gulf region intensify.
The UAE Armed Forces said on Sunday it signed the deal with Lockheed Martin to upgrade 80 of its F-16 jet fighters, amid other defence deals with US firms.
“We are proud of our 40-year partnership with the UAE,” Lockheed Martin's global president and chief executive Marillyn Hewson told The National. “The UAE Air Force flies the most advanced fourth-generation fighter in the world-- the F-16 Block 60, ‘Desert Falcon’ and we will continue to support them as they maintain those aircraft. This is yet another step forward in our partnership to enhance UAE national security and air defence capabilities."
Lockheed is expanding in the Gulf because of heightened demand from customers amid the ongoing regional tensions, said Ms Hewson.
“The regional security situation is difficult and I think there will continue to be a need for [countries] to protect their citizens,” said Ms Hewson. “We have seen demand increase in the past year.”
Lockheed Martin is also ramping up its activities elsewhere in the Gulf, according to Ms Hewson. “We will continue to expand in the region, including in the UAE and Saudi Arabia," she said.
“It’s a very complex global security environment at present and it is unpredictable for our customers. They are facing accelerating threats all the time, whether it’s terrorist threats, the aggression of different non-state actors, and other groups around the world.”
She said the company is seeing particular demand for air and missile defence, including the anti-missile defence system, Terminal High Altitude Area Defence (THAAD).
The UAE is already running a THAAD programme, while Saudi Arabia might get the defence system after securing government approval.
"We’re going through the government processes on that”, Ms Hewson said.
The Donald Trump administration approved last month the potential sale of THAAD to Saudi Arabia in a deal valued at up to $15bn.
The sale is part of a $110bn package of defence equipment and services announced during president Trump’s trip to Riyadh in May.
She noted that Bahrain has received congressional notification to purchase 16-19 F-16s, and the company will continue to upgrade existing craft for Bahrain and other countries in the Middle East. Gulf countries have also expressed interest in radar systems, Black Hawk helicopters, rotary wing systems, tactical aircraft and surveillance demand and control systems.
“We have certainly seen demand increase in the region,” said Ms Hewson. “For example, if you look at some of the things we were in the process of working on for a number of years – those things have moved to the next phase."
She cited the example of military deals inked during Trump's Saudi visit, including the finalisation of the Rotary Aircraft Manufacturing Saudi Arabia (RAMSA) joint venture, under which the defence company will build 150 Black Hawk helicopters for the kingdom.