The Dubai Air Show last week highlighted ongoing commercial competition between Russia and the US for Middle Eastern customers. Control over sales to the region could be exceptionally lucrative, with Middle Eastern customers having sizeable defense budgets and lacking domestic defense aviation industries.

Madeline Wild, Associate Defense Analyst, comments: “Competition between the US and Russia over the UAE’s Future fighter jet contract was a point of focus at the Air Show. The US are hopeful that the Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II will be chosen to fulfill the UAE’s requirement over the Sukhoi Su-75 Checkmate being offered by Russia. President Biden has approved the sale of the F-35 after previously having been put on hold, the sale would form part of a larger US$23 billion package of defense equipment for the UAE. The US has been keen to highlight the potential benefits for the UAE of having the F-35 including potential interoperability with F-35 fleets in nearby Europe. The initial agreement to sell the UAE F-35’s led to the Emirati’s recognizing Israel and establishing diplomatic relations which was a significant step towards regional cooperation. However, the Russian’s feel equally confident that the Su-75 Checkmate can offer the UAE enough to win a lucrative contract.

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“Rostec, the parent organization of Sukhoi, has held talks with UAE to discuss co-production of the Su-75 if it were to be purchased by Emirati Armed Forces.  This would be economically beneficial for the UAE, with any domestic production of the jet providing a boost to the UAE’s indigenous defense industry. It is worth noting that China also exhibited their L-15 trainer jet and associated weaponry with the aim of attracting potential customers to Chinese defense technology. Russia and the US should remain cognizant of China’s future potential to be a third major supplier to the Middle Eastern defense market.

“However, China is currently struggling to find foreign buyers for some of its aircraft; notably its fighter jets. Currently in development is the FC-31 that aims to rival the F-35, however until that enters service, the JF-17 is the primary Chinese export fighter. The JF-17 is being jointly developed with Pakistan and has only been sold to Myanmar, Nigeria and Pakistan. Following the limited success of exporting the JF-17, China has refused to export the J-20 (China’s answer to the F-22) in order to protect the technology.

“Other aircraft sold by China, including the Y-8 transport aircraft and the K-8 trainer aircraft, have had more success internationally and thus may explain the decision to exhibit the L-15 trainer at the Dubai Air Show rather than a fighter variant; the Middle Eastern market is already highly competitive and so it is understandable to show an aircraft type that has had success historically.”