Procurement: February 27, 2004

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The first batch of  F-16I "Sufa" (Storm) advance fighter bombers arrived at the Ramon Israel Air Force (IAF) base from the US last week, part of a $4.5 billion deal signed in 1999. Of that figure, $600 million of the reciprocal procurements were channeled to Israeli subcontractors of the F-16I. 

Ironically, the Israeli jets are being built alongside of the UAE's at the Lockheed Martin production line in Ft. Worth, Texas. The 'Storm' has more space for weapons since it uses the removable conformal fuel tanks (CFTs). A further development of the Block 50/52-series, the 'Storm' also has a more advanced navigation system, as well as a AN/APG-68(V)9 multimode radar (with five times the processing speed and 10 times more memory than previous F-16s).

With the arrival of the 102 F-16Is (three Squadrons worth), Israel will have a total of 362 Falcons (making it the largest Falcon fleet in the world, outside of the United States). The F-16Is will be based in the Negev, part of the IAF's overall plan to "move southward" and the squadrons will be manned by veteran pilots who have already mastered other jets. The IAF's existing inventories of A-4 Skyhawk ground-attack and F-4 Phantom strike aircraft will then be phased out. - Adam Geibel

The United Arab Emirates will take delivery of a first batch of 80 sophisticated, multi-role "Block 60" F-16 jet fighters before the end of 2004. The "Block 60" unique features include the APG-80 multimode radar with active electronically scanned antenna, internalized forward-looking infrared navigation and targeting system, advanced cockpit (three large multifunction displays, picture-in-picture, enhanced automation), fiber-optic avionics data bus, commercial off-the-shelf processors, Falcon Edge internal electronic countermeasures system and the 32,000-pound-thrust-class F110-GE-132 engine. Like other advanced F-16s, the Block 60 can carry conformal fuel tanks, and the two-seat version will feature a dorsal avionics compartment and a fully mechanized rear cockpit. In October 2002, the UAE Air Force also signed an agreement to procure Raytheon's AIM-9M Sidewinder air-to-air missiles for their F-16s. 

Anticipating the new fighters, the Gulf federation started upgrading two air force bases in 2003. Work at the al-Minhat base outside Dubai was not scheduled to be completed until 2005, while the work at Al-Dhafra (in Abu Dhabi emirate) would not be finished until the end of 2004. Britain, France and the United States pledged to cooperate in forming the Air Warfare Center at Al Dhafra, which will also be used by the United States to train UAE pilots on the new F-16s. While operated by the UAE Air Force, the planned air center will allow the three NATO allies to conduct joint operations to defend Gulf Cooperation Council states from external threats. 

In March 2000, the United Arab Emirates signed a contract worth a total $6.4 billion for 80 F-16s to be delivered from the end of 2004 through 2007. The UAE selected the F-16 in an intense competition in 1998, although the UAE insisted on playing several rounds of diplomatic games afterwards. The UAE wanted radar IFF software control codes that, if supplied, could allow the UAE to reprogram the radar to identify American or Israeli planes as enemies (the French were apparently willing to include the control codes with its Rafale fighter).

After the 1991 Gulf War drove Iraq from Kuwait, the UAE launched an ambitious defense program - part of which was a $3.2 billion dollar contract with France's Dassault to buy Mirage 2000-9s and modernize 33 other Mirages. Oil-rich Abu Dhabi has also had logistical agreements with the United States since the Gulf War, which saw US aerial refueling tankers and C-130 transports using UAE facilities. - Adam Geibel


 


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