November 12, 2017 / 12:32 PM / in a year

AIRSHOW-UAE agrees $1.6 bln deal with Lockheed Martin to upgrade F-16 fighters

(Adds details and background)

DUBAI, Nov 12 (Reuters) - The United Arab Emirates will pay Lockheed Martin Corp 6 billion dirhams ($1.63 billion) to upgrade 80 F-16 jet fighters, a Defence Ministry spokesman said on Sunday.

Major General Abdullah Al Sayed Al Hashemi, Chief of the Military Committee and spokesman for the UAE Armed Forces was speaking at a news conference at the Dubai Airshow.

The ministry also announced other deals, including 66 million dirhams to U.S.-based OTNA INC for Blu-109 ammunition and a 35 million dirham agreement with Thales Communications and Security SAS to secure defence communications.

The UAE is also interested in fifth-generation fighter jets with a preference for Lockheed Martin's F-35, which is the only Western-made jet that fully meets those requirements.

Fifth generation is a definition that varies according to each manufacturer but broadly includes advanced stealth capability and a high level of computerised connectivity between fighter jets.

The U.S. company has sold the F-35 to a range of allies, including Turkey, South Korea, Japan, and Israel. Sales to the Gulf require more scrutiny, however, due to the U.S. government's policy of helping Israel to maintain a qualitative military edge in the Middle East.

Al Hashemi said he was optimistic that the UAE would be able to buy the F-35 in the near future. "It is an excellent jet," he said, declining to give details on talks with the U.S. administration.

Ishaq Saleh al Baloushi, executive director of Defence, Industry and Capability Development at the ministry of defence, said the UAE has been also in talks with Russia to buy dozens of Sukhoi 35 fighter jets.

The wealthy Gulf state has also been analysing the European Eurofighter Typhoon and the French Dassault Rafale fighter jets for years, though deals for the fourth generation jets have never been secured.

"Nothing is finalised, we are talking to all. The technical team is working on this." he said declining to give details.

The UAE has been waging war, along with its closest regional ally Saudi Arabia, against the Houthi group in neighbouring Yemen, while tensions are also high with the Gulf states' arch-foe Iran.

$1 = 3.6725 UAE dirham Reporting by Aziz El Yaakoubi and Stanley Carvalho; Editing by Catherine Evans

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