At the end of March new images released by Google Earth showed something new in the UAE (United Arab Emirates); a new military airbase far from the coast and 80 kilometers from the nearest settlement. The 3,000 meter long airbase was built next to a shorter and narrower airstrip which is now a taxi way for the main strip. There are also fortified aircraft shelters for about 20 jet fighters and a parking area capable of holding over 40 very large aircraft (heavy bombers or transports). Construction continues, mainly to add support services (maintenance and fueling).
The UAE will say nothing about the facility, despite the fact that it’s quite large. It may have to do with the sense of urgency to do something about the growing threat from Iran. The UAE has been spending billions annually to buy more weapons and the most modern ones at that. This has been going on since the 1990s. UAE has hundreds of jet fighters, trainers, transports and helicopters and the new base is part of a strategy to enable more of these aircraft to survive a war with Iran.
Not that Iran doesn’t have a lot to worry about. Some American commanders believe the 80 F-16E fighters the UAE bought over a decade ago could probably quickly destroy the entire Iranian Air Force. The UAE is in the process of buying 30 more (and somewhat improved) F-16Es. The Gulf Arabs would prefer the Iranians to believe their own propaganda, that the Iranian military is much more powerful than it actually is. The Iranian Air Force is mainly a mighty force only in terms of Iranian propaganda. The Gulf Arabs don't want the Iranians to make a strong effort to upgrade their air force and air defenses. The Iranian myth is much better for the Gulf Arabs than Iranian military commanders who plan and prepare on the basis of what they really have. The Arabs do believe that the Iranians are clever and are big believers in nasty wartime surprises. Things like surprise attacks with ballistic missiles aimed at the UAE air force for example. So the UAE has been building more “dispersal” bases to make it more difficult for the Iranians to carry out a surprise attack.
The UAE occupies much of the western coast of the Persian Gulf, but has a population of less than three million and armed forces of only 65,000. There are 70 million Iranians, and about half a million of them are in the military. While the Iranian air force only has about 200 operational, and quite elderly, combat aircraft, sheer numbers can be encouraging to the Iranians. The UAE has a hundred, much more modern, warplanes, and it uses the training assistance from the U.S. Air Force, to provide a qualitative edge. The Americans also work with UAE commanders to figure out what kind of surprises the Iranians might try to pull. Arab nations fear the Iranians, who have dominated the region for thousands of years, and have a long history of coming up with imaginative tactics, and using them aggressively and often with success. Meanwhile, the Saudis have a larger air force than the UAE, and it's believed that the Iranians must have some kind of surprises planned, to deal with this imbalance in air power..
The UAE hopes to even things with one of the two most advanced versions of the F-16 (which are both in use by foreign air forces). The UAE "Desert Falcons" (the F-16E) is optimized for air combat. It is a 22 ton aircraft based on the Block 52 model, but with an AESA (phased array) radar and lots of other additional goodies. The other advanced F-16 is the Israeli F-16I.
The U.S. F-16 is one of the most modified jet fighters in service. While most are still called the F-16C, there are actually six major mods, identified by block number (32, 40, 42, 50, 52, 60), plus the Israeli F-16I, which is a major modification of the Block 52. The other special version (the Block 60), for the UAE, is called the F-16E. The F-16D is a two seat trainer version of F-16Cs. The various block mods included a large variety of new components (five engines, four sets of avionics, five generations of electronic warfare gear, five radars and many other mechanical, software, cockpit and electrical mods.) The F-16 is the most numerous post-Cold War jet fighter, with nearly 5,000 built or ordered. During The Cold War, Russia built over 10,000 MiG-21s, and the U.S over 5,000 F-4s, but since then warplane manufacturing has plummeted about 90 percent. But since the end of the Cold War, the F-16 has been popular enough to keep the production lines going.