WASHINGTON — The U.S. State Department on Tuesday cleared a massive package of F-35 fighter jets and MQ-9 unmanned systems for the United Arab Emirates, making official a potential sale still opposed by many congressional Democrats.
In a statement, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced that the package, which comes with an estimated price tag of $23.37 billion, includes up to 50 F-35s worth $10.4 billion, 18 MQ-9Bs worth $2.97 billion, and $10 billion worth of air-to-air and air-to-ground munitions.
“This is in recognition of our deepening relationship and the UAE’s need for advanced defense capabilities to deter and defend itself against heightened threats from Iran,” Pompeo said. “The UAE’s historic agreement to normalize relations with Israel under the Abraham Accords offers a once-in-a-generation opportunity to positively transform the region’s strategic landscape. Our adversaries, especially those in Iran, know this and will stop at nothing to disrupt this shared success.”
“The proposed sale will make the UAE even more capable and interoperable with U.S. partners in a manner fully consistent with America’s longstanding commitment to ensuring Israel’s Qualitative Military Edge,” he added, referencing a U.S. legal standard that Israel maintain a military technological advantage over its neighbors.
The sale was expected ever since the signing of peace agreements between Israel and the UAE. The administration previously informally notified Congress of the sale’s details, with leading foreign policy Democrats signaling they would act to block it.
Potential foreign military sales notified to Congress are not guaranteed to move forward, and the quantities and dollar figures can often change during final negotiations. But even getting this far is a big win for the UAE, which has long sought the stealthy F-35; it also represents a win for the Trump administration, which has made increasing U.S. weapon exports a key part of its economic platform.
Aaron Mehta was deputy editor and senior Pentagon correspondent for Defense News, covering policy, strategy and acquisition at the highest levels of the Defense Department and its international partners.