WASHINGTON – An official from Top Arms Sales believes it is “possible” to contract the United Arab Emirates to purchase the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter before the end of the Trump administration.
Speaking to reporters on Friday, Defense Security Cooperation Agency head Heidi Grant admitted that such a schedule is logistically feasible, but noted that the UAE likely needs to act quickly.
“If you ask if it is possible, it is absolutely possible,” Grant replied when asked if the F-35s could be under contract until January 20, when President-elect Joe Biden is inaugurated. “But we don’t control it. We wait for the congressional benchmark, then we wait when we offer it to the Emiratis, and it’s up to them as to the schedule. But it is possible.”
The aforementioned “Congress Benchmark” scholarship is the end of the legally required notice period for Congress for all foreign military sales offers. The DSCA informed Congress of the possible sale on November 10th, which means the notice period ends next week.
FMS cases are agreements between a partner nation and Washington, with the Pentagon acting as an intermediary for the buyer and the industrial partner. That means the next step after the reporting deadline is to draft and sign a letter of agreement between the UAE and the US, said R. Clarke Cooper, deputy undersecretary for politico-military affairs.
“This is a bilateral process between the United States and the United Arab Emirates, so there is no specific timetable,” said Cooper. “Of course, when we’re working on LOAs, partners would like to see them sooner rather than later, but that’s not date specific.”
The UAE is targeting a massive $ 23.37 billion weapons package that will include up to 50 F-35A fighters worth $ 10.4 billion, 18 MQ-9B drones worth $ 2 , $ 97 billion and air-to-air and air-to-surface ammunition valued at $ 10 billion. These dollar sums are estimates and may shift during recent negotiations, but it’s still a massive win for American industry – and a political battle on Capitol Hill.
Legislators, especially the Democrats, have spoken out against the possible sale, saying they ignore the risks to sensitive military technology that arise from the UAE’s relations with Russia and China. And they are concerned about the threat to Israel’s qualitative military advantage (QME) in the Middle East. The Senate will vote on laws next week to block the sale.
Although the sale was supported by President Donald Trump, there is a belief that the Biden administration might try to block it and so there is a belief in some corners of Congress that the Trump administration is rushing to get the sale off before Complete January 20th.
Biden’s election as Secretary of State, Anthony Blinken, told reporters in late October that the deal is “something we would look at very, very carefully and make sure the QME is upheld, and also very importantly that Congress has a role to play.”
In an interview Thursday, Senator Chris Murphy, D-Conn., Said the Trump administration, being briefed on the sales he and other members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee received last month, convinced him the sale in the incoming biden is brought administration. But he believes that if the deal is not defeated in Congress, it could be changed by the next president.
“I think the Biden administration will be able to set additional terms of sale or withhold guns, but I haven’t looked at the fine print yet,” Murphy said. “I am concerned that we will have to make certain sales.”
Joe Gould in Washington contributed to this story