The United Arab Emirates (UAE) said it plans to buy a dozen Chinese light combat aircraft as it seeks to bolster its defences after a series of attacks by Yemeni rebels.
The deal comes after the UAE’s threat in December 2021 to scrap its purchase of US F-35 fighter jets as it protested against stringent conditions amid Washington’s concerns over China.
The UAE defence ministry said it intended to sign a contract with China National Aero-Technology Import & Export Corporation (CATIC) to purchase 12 L15 training and light combat aircraft, with the option for 36 more jets.
“We have reached the final stage in our talks with the Chinese side,” Tareq Al-Hosani, CEO of Tawazun Economic Council, the country’s defence and security acquisitions authority, was quoted as saying by the official WAM news agency.
The value of the deal was not disclosed but Al-Hosani said the final contract would “be signed soon”.
The US and UAE have yet to finalise a $23 billion arms deal that includes F-35 fighter jets.
Some US Congress members have sought to scupper the sale, pointing in part to the Gulf state’s role in the Yemen war and its increasing involvement with China.
The UAE continues to plough money into drones, robots and other unmanned weaponry as autonomous warfare becomes more widespread – including in attacks on the Gulf country by Yemen’s Iran-backed Houthi rebels.
The wealthy Gulf country is part of the Saudi-led coalition that has been fighting the Houthis since 2015. Although it withdrew ground troops in 2019, it remains a key player in the grinding conflict.
On January 17, drone-and-missile assault by the Houthis killed three oil workers in Abu Dhabi, the first in a number of similar attacks on the UAE.
- AFP, with additional editing by George Russell