WASHINGTON — A contract for the sale of F-35 Joint Strike Fighters to the United Arab Emirates is likely to be inked before the end of the Trump administration, according to a top U.S. State Department official.
“Everything is on that trajectory” for a signed contract before Jan. 20, R. Clarke Cooper, assistant secretary of state for political-military affairs, told reporters on a Friday call.
Members of Congress previously raised concerns that the deal is being rushed so it can be on contract before the Biden administration takes over. President-elect Joe Biden’s pick for secretary of state, Anthony Blinken, told reporters in late October that the deal is “something we would look at very, very carefully.” But changing the deal becomes harder once a contract is signed.
“As you can imagine, there’s not one contract, so they’re going to be happening at different timelines ... there are going to be different contract signatures, different productions and different deliveries,” Cooper explained. “Why? You’re talking about different prime corporate elements, or different members of the defense industrial base, and also the conditions that are associated with a particular platform or system.
“But yes, I mean, everything’s in the trajectory for conclusion. And as we’ve already discussed, the sales of course have been well put together by the interagency and have cleared our Congress as well.”
The UAE deal comes with an estimated $23.37 billion price tag, which includes up to 50 F-35A fighters worth $10.4 billion, 18 MQ-9B drones worth $2.97 billion, and $10 billion worth of air-to-air and air-to-ground munitions. (Those dollar totals are estimates and may shift during final negotiations.)
The sale has proven politically fraught in Congress. Democratic lawmakers expressed opposition to the potential sale, saying it ignores risks to sensitive military technology posed by the UAE’s ties to Russia and China. Some also raised concerns about the threat to Israel’s qualitative military edge in the Middle East.
However, a December attempt in the Senate to block the arms sales failed, largely along party lines. The first vote concerned the drones and munitions, failing 46-50, while the second concerned the F-35s and fell 47-49.
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.