Jul 9, 2013 Awad Mustafa - thenational.ae
ABU DHABI // UAE Air Force chiefs are this week meeting with a European defence consortium as part of a possible deal to buy 60 of their fighter jets.
Representatives from BAE Systems, Eads, Eurojet and MBDA, the companies behind the Eurofighter Typhoon, have been locked in discussions with Air Force officials this week.
Tony Gilchrist, BAE Systems' vice president for air programmes who is leading discussions on behalf of the consortium, said: "We have been in dialogue for several months with the Air Force.
"We have also started talking with the Department of General Procurement at the Air Force and the discussions are in a good place, amicable and there is a mutual understanding between us."
The UAE has been in talks with a number of nations to procure advanced multi-role aircraft, including the French manufacturer Dassault for its Rafale fighter.
Mr Gilchrist, in Abu Dhabi to attend the Tawazun Economic Council and BAE Systems industrial workshop, said the UAE Air Force's demands for the new jets included installing sophisticated weapons systems.
"What is being discussed is the most advanced Typhoon when compared to the existing fleet or any orders that have been made," he said. "An extremely capable and very advanced fighter jet has been asked of us by the Air Force."
Alan Sparkes, the director of cooperative programmes at MBDA, the missile systems maker for the Eurofighter, said the UAE's requirements included the most advanced weapons in the world placed together in one aircraft.
"These capabilities include a beyond visual range air-to-air missile with high accuracy," Mr Sparkes said.
Although the demands put forward by the UAE are challenging, Mr Gilchrist said he was confident they could be delivered.
"The UAE Air Force's capability requirements are highly ambitious but deliverable because of the strength of the European partnership and its expertise," he said.
There are more than 700 Typhoons in air forces around the world, with 571 aircraft on order by seven nations including Saudi Arabia and Oman.
Part of ongoing discussions in the fighter deal is training, education and technology transfer with the UAE, Mr Gilchrist said.
BAE Systems Middle East and Africa and Khalifa University in Abu Dhabi already operate a programme to train students.
A major structural component of the jets will be developed by UAE company Tawazun Precision Industries.
"We are trying to get kids straight out of school into apprenticeships within our consortium," said Mr Gilchrist.
"Education and training in technology, aerospace and engineering for Emiratis is a key focus for us."
He added that the consortium is looking for Emiratis to form part of a highly capable workforce to participate in research and development.
Saif Al Hajeri, chief executive of Tawazun Economic Council, said its strategy was aligned with the UAE's vision for economic diversification and aimed to develop technology transfer from leading experts to help build national capabilities.
"Through such forums, TEC aims to provide a platform to both local industry and international partners to communicate best practices, to exchange knowledge, and to look into potential strategic initiatives and cooperation opportunities," Mr Al Hajeri said.
This year the Eurofighter lost out to Rafale over a US$10 billion (Dh36.7bn) contract in India for 126 jet fighters.
Mr Gilchrist said that despite the Rafale being given the L1 rating by the Indian ministry of defence, which means they would be first to present and offer a contract, his company was closely watching the negotiations between Dassault and the Indian government.
"If the L1, Rafale, is not able to fulfil the negotiation demands, then Eurofighter would be given the chance," he said.
"We are still optimistic in India. This is by no way a done deal for our French friends. We are ready to re-enter discussions."
French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian completed a two-day visit to the UAE on July 8, during which he lobbied in favor of the Dassault Aviation Rafale and other equipment being negotiated by French companies: two observation satellites worth 500 million euros (Astrium and Thales Alenia Space), 700 VBCI wheeled armored vehicles, as well as Thales air-defense radars.
However, according to the French news website La Tribune, Le Drian’s main goal was to convince Abu Dhabi’s Crown Prince, Sheik Mohamed Ben Zayed Al-Nahyan, to buy the Rafale as a replacement for the UAE air force’s Mirage 2000-5 fighters.
French sources say the UAE is using Eurofighter talks as a negotiating ploy to obtain a lower price, and express confidence that Rafale still has a good chance to win the UAE’s 60-aircraft contract.