UK Defence Secretary Philip Hammond, right, looks at the cockpit of a Eurofighter Typhoon at the 2013 Dubai Air Show on Nov. 17 at Dubai World Central, Dubai. (Colin Kelly/Staff)
DUBAI — The British government had positive talks with the King of Bahrain at the Dubai Airshow about the possible sale of Typhoon fighters, according to UK Defence Secretary Philip Hammond.
Hammond dampened expectations of an imminent announcement of a Typhoon deal with the United Arab Emirates, however, saying they were not yet at a point of announcing anything publicly but were making good progress on a wide ranging package of defense and industrial collaborative issues.
The British defense secretary termed the discussions with the king as “very fruitful” and said he hoped the Gulf nation would make “a decision to join the Typhoon family soon.”
The king announced his intention to purchase the European fast jet during a visit to the UK earlier this year. Several discussions to progress a possible sale of a squadron of aircraft have taken place since then.
Hammond discounted any a deal falling foul of concerns over Bahrain’s human rights record during earlier efforts by protestors to bring down the government.
“It’s nothing to do with the internal situation. Jets are about external defense of the country and allowing Bahrain to contribute to the defense of the Gulf Cooperation Council member states,” he said.
In the region Saudi Arabia and Oman have already purchased the Typhoon, while the four-nation European program is also pitching for business in the UAE, Qatar and Kuwait.
Speculation that a decision in favor of a 60-aircraft purchase of Typhoon might be announced at the air show were heightened ahead of a visit to Dubai of British Prime Minister David Cameron starting Nov 16.
Cameron led what was probably the most powerful gathering of British politicians, senior military officers and industry leaders seen at an air show outside of the UK’s own event at Farnborough as it cranked up the effort to seal a wide ranging defense agreement, including security cooperation, training, industrial collaboration and equipment sales.
Aside from Cameron and Hammond, the heads of the armed forces and BAE Systems CEO Ian King were all on hand to progress the talks.
BAE is leading the Typhoon export effort in the UAE against rival bids from France’s Rafale and Boeing’s F/A-18.
Rafale was originally the preferred choice for the UAE but failed to seal the deal before Boeing and BAE were invited to submit bids.
One senior French industry executive said he believed Rafael would still win the contract, calling the concerted British push at the show a public relations effort.
However, Hammond told reporters at the show that Britain’s discussion with the UAE were making “good progress but we are not yet at the point of announcing anything publicly ... the fact the prime minister came here emphasizes his deep commitment.”
Hammond declined to discuss how committed the British MoD is to a possible scheme to co-develop a medium-altitude, long-endurance unmanned air vehicle with the UAE.
“I can’t discuss individual strands of the packages. They are all interlinked. It’s a comprehensive sets of discussions across a whole range of topics some may come to fruition, some may not, we are making some very good progress but these are very complex discussions,” said Hammond.
MoD evidence to the British Parliamentary defence committee recently on unmanned air vehicles plans said international collaboration was a possibility.
Plans to collaborate with France on a MALE development have been sidelined and the evidence said the assessment phase of a program to fulfill UK requirements up to 2030 would focus on a new variant of the General Atomics Reaper, but remain open to other options.
He said Britain had no plans to set up a permanent military base in the UAE, but the RAF continued to undertake regular rotation of assets into the Gulf state.