November 21, 2013
Credit: Lockheed Martin
Gulf buyers are nearing decisions to buy more current generation fighter jets, but the buzz at the Dubai Airshow was about Lockheed Martin Corp’s (LMT.N) radar-evading F-35 fighter - a plane not yet operational and not even on display there.
The U.S. government sent a big delegation to this year’s show, eager to reassure Gulf leaders about their continued commitment to the region despite policy differences over Syria and Iran and signs that Egypt is looking at buying Russian weapons after a slowdown in U.S. military aid.
For the first time, U.S. government and industry officials also spoke about the process under way to allow the sale of the Lockheed jet to the Gulf - probably about five years after Israel receives its first F-35 fighter jets in 2016.
One Gulf source familiar with the region’s defense market said the F-35 was generating a degree of excitement even before any U.S. decision to allow its sale to Gulf buyers.
The possibility that the F-35 aircraft might become available could explain why Gulf countries are taking their time with decisions on purchases of other fighters, the source said.
Heidi Grant, U.S. deputy assistant secretary of the Air Force for international programs, said Gulf buyers were focused on buying additional fourth-generation jets but were clearly interested in the F-35 - a so-called “fifth-generation” warplane that is designed to be nearly invisible to enemy radar.
“They’re just asking me to monitor it, and when it becomes available let (them) know,” Grant told Reuters in an interview. “They understand that we haven’t made a policy decision to open up in this region right now.”