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Why is the US Reluctant to Sell Fifth-Gen F-35 Fighter Aircraft to Its Close Arab Allies?

It's not that Gulf Arab countries don't want to acquire fifth-generation fighter jets, but their persistent attempts to acquire the F-35 fighter jets have hit a dead end, despite these Gulf Arab nations being close allies of Washington in the region.

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(DEFENCE SECURITY ASIA) –Despite blessed with wealth and abundance of petro-dollar, the air forces of Gulf Arab countries, especially Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), and Qatar, have yet to be equipped with fifth-generation fighter jets such as the F-35.

It’s not that Gulf Arab countries don’t want to buy the fifth-generation fighter jets,  but their persistent attempts to acquire the F-35 fighter jets have hit a dead end, despite these three Gulf Arab nations being close allies and strong backer of Washington in the region.

Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Qatar have bought advanced fighter jets from the American and European companies with ease previously, but why were their efforts to acquire the F-35 have been unsuccessful thus far.

Until now, hundreds of F-35 fighter jets have been sold by the United States to its allies worldwide, but not a single one of these advanced aircraft has been sold to the wealthy Gulf Arab countries despite them being a close ally to Washington. Why?

For the United States, it is willing to sell the F-35 to these Arab countries, but any sales agreement is accompanied by extremely strict conditions, making any sale of Lockheed Martin’s fifth-generation aircraft impossible.

F-35 Adir
Pesawat F-35I “Adir” of Israel Air Force


Conditions such as human rights records, politics, and others have been imposed by Washington on these Gulf Arab countries if they want to own F-35 fighter jets, proving a major stumbling block in realising their dream of owning a fifth generation fighter aircraft.

In 2021, the UAE had agreed to purchase 50 F-35 fighter jets and 18 MQ-9 Reaper drones from the United States, during Donald Trump’s administration, in an estimated $23 billion deal.

 The agreement for purchase of F-35 had only received a “green light” from Washington after the UAE agreed to establish diplomatic relations with Israel under the Abraham Accords initiative.

However, the agreement fell apart when the UAE refused to follow the United States’ lead in ending its cooperation with the Chinese 5G technology giant, Huawei.


The United States was concerned that China might use Huawei’s 5G technology in the UAE to spy on the capabilities of the F-35 fighter jets.

Although Saudi Arabia has not established any diplomatic relations with Israel so far, reports citing sources suggest that the Trump administration wanted Riyadh to establish official relations with Tel Aviv before granting other “concessions.”



 One of these concessions was that Israel would not object if Washington wanted to sell F-35s to Saudi Arabia.

It is clear that for Saudi Arabia and Qatar to be able to buy F-35 aircraft, both Gulf Arab countries would need to establish diplomatic relations with Israel first.

Qatar, which hosts the largest number of American military personnel in the Middle East, has also submitted a request to Washington to acquire F-35 fighter jets.

However, due to Doha’s close ties with the Hamas group, the United States has “looked unfavorably” upon the request.

In reality, Israel holds the “key” to whether the United States will permit Gulf Arab countries to have F-35s or not. The decision lies in Tel Aviv’s hands rather than Washington’s.

Numerous obstacles to acquiring fifth-generation fighter aircraft have led Gulf Arab countries to seek alternative solutions.

 The B-52 aircraft escorted by Royal Saudi Air Force F-15s. (Image credit: U.S. CENTCOM)
Qataris Rafale


However, the “alternative route” pursued by Gulf Arab countries does not promise any positive developments.

 Besides the F-35, fifth-generation fighter aircraft are currently only operated by two countries, China and Russia.

China does not sell its fifth-generation J-20 “Mighty Dragon” to other nations, while Russia is still facing challenges in producing enough Su-57s for its air force.

 With tight economic sanctions imposed on Russia due to its conflict with Ukraine, the production issues of the Su-57 are expected to persist, at least as long as the conflict in Eastern Europe continues.

The CAATSA (Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act) threat also plays a role in reducing the interest of Gulf Arab countries in acquiring Russian fighter jets.

It appears that the quest of Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Qatar to acquire fifth-generation fighter aircraft will continue for some time. – DSA

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