DUBAI — The United Arab Emirates is denying there are negotiations to acquire V-22 tiltrotor aircraft, despite statements suggesting otherwise from the Bell Boeing team that builds the aircraft.
"There are no V-22 discussions going on at this time," a UAE military official said Wednesday evening at the Dubai Airshow.
That appears to contradict a statement from Bell Helicopter on Tuesday after the UAE selected the AgustaWestland AW609 tiltrotor to be its new search and rescue system. After that decision, a Bell spokeswoman said the US and UAE are still communicating about the potential of a V-22 sale to the nation.
According to one industry source, however, UAE officials were briefed on the status of the V-22 by US program officials during the Dubai Airshow and discussed cost issues, but made it clear they're not in the market for the aircraft anytime soon.
A US government source said the V-22 has been "off the table for a while" for the UAE.
After the UAE denied talks, US government and industry officials declined further comment to avoid angering a potential customer.
That's in part because the nation has other higher priorities including the ongoing operations in Yemen.
One of those higher priorities was the UAE Armed Forces' Joint Aviation Command's announcement Tuesday that it was selecting the AW609 design from AgustaWestland to fulfill its requirement for a tiltrotor search and rescue aircraft. Delivery of the first three aircraft is expected to start in the "2019 timeframe," AgustaWestland said.
After UAE picked the AW609, the V-22 team made a case for their product.
"There was not a competition for the search and rescue mission requirement for which the AW609 was selected," Bell spokesperson Bridget Hall said in a Tuesday statement.
"While we cannot disclose any specifics in the case of potential FMS sales, there are ongoing government-to-government discussions about the V-22 for other missions, as the V-22 has the unique capability to fulfill missions other platforms cannot."
Before the AW609 announcement, Richard Harris, Bell's vice president for international military business sales, said that the UAE has "a lot of interest right now" in the V-22, adding the company expects to see interest from other countries in the region, including Saudi Arabia and Qatar.
"If you take a look at some of the other Gulf states and how they've been increasing their involvement in areas like Yemen and what's happening with ISIS, everybody has a vested interest in personnel recovery, combat search and rescue. I think there's some special ops forces missions that this aircraft does very well," Harris said.
US Marine Corps Col. Dan Robinson, V-22 program manager, told reporters during a news conference an hour after the AW609 deal was announced that he is "not that concerned" that the UAE chose a different tiltrotor platform for the search and rescue mission, because the V-22 has the unique capability to fulfill missions other platforms can't.
The V-22 secured its first foreign customer last year when Japan agreed to purchase the Osprey. A contract for five of the tiltrotor aircraft was signed in July.
Lara Seligman and Vago Muradian contributed to this report.