Jet sale is no win-win

March 29, 2000|By Luke Warren

WHILE MOST analysts and pundits are elated with the money and jobs the United Arab Emirate's purchase of 80 F-16 Falcon fighter jets will create, few have delved into the potential security pitfalls of this massive $8 billion deal.

The technology included in this deal is more advanced than anything the U.S. currently has in its arsenal. Technology of this capability will have long-lasting effects on the security relationships in the Middle East, not all of which will be positive.

The UAE is paying a large portion of the research and development costs for the custom-ordered radar and integrated avionics systems on these F-16s. Those systems, when finally built by Northrop Grumman Corp., will supercede anything U.S. military planes will have at that point.

Also first rate is Northrop's new electronic warfare system, which the U.S. Air Force does not have, nor does it intend to incorporate into its planes in the future.

Additionally, the UAE's F-16s will have longer range and greater payload than any other F-16s in existence. Some of the missiles the Falcons will be armed with have never before been introduced into the Middle East, breaking U.S. policy.

But according to the U.S. government, the UAE sale furthers U.S. regional policy. The Clinton administration's rationale for the sale is that it will help contain Iraq and Iran and permit "the free flow of energy resources -- [and] freedom of navigation" in the Persian Gulf. That strategy specifically targets Iran and states that U.S. policy "is aimed at changing the behavior of the Iranian government -- and its [military] development -- which threaten -- the flow of oil." But this argument not only ignores the fact that the UAE does not need the world's best fighter jets to defeat the pathetic Iranian air force, but that the UAE fighter sale might actually precipitate Iranian actions it meant to deter.

The sale also calls into question the wisdom of selling some of our most advanced weaponry to a region in tension. As was noted by Jane's Defense Weekly, the state-of-the-art technology the United States is providing the UAE "will dramatically change the air warfare equation in the region."

In effect, once the UAE has this equipment, how long before the Saudis come knocking -- and then Israel? When does this upward spiral of weapons proliferation stop?

It might not, and that is the problem. This sale will open a Pandora's box in the unstable Middle East, and the potential resulting maelstrom may even engulf the United States.

Why? Because it puts the United States in an arms race with itself. The UAE deal will be a watershed event in what weapons a country can purchase from the United States and Europe. After this sale, it will be much more difficult for the United States to say no to countries wanting to buy weapons better than our own. We may be able to quickly incorporate the technology the UAE is buying into our forces, but that will become nearly impossible as more countries buy unique top-of-the-line equipment. Sooner or later, we will sell ourselves into technological parity, or worse, with the other militaries of the world.

This eventuality will not be stopped, since U.S. defense companies believe they have to export to get reasonable economies of scale for the weapons the U.S. government wants to buy.

For instance, at least seven other countries are already signed on to buy the next generation Joint Strike Fighter as soon as it is built.

The U.S. technological edge in combat could soon be lost as a result of our own exports, and that is a concern since U.S. forces often find themselves facing American weapons. How long before our military finds itself facing superior equipment?

Jobs and money are a small consolation for the national and regional security risks this UAE F-16 sale contains. Lawmakers should rub the neon dollar signs from their eyes and take a closer look at the implications of this sale.

If they do so, they will find this deal is not in the U.S. national security interest and should be stopped.

Luke Warren is media coordinator for the Council for a Livable World Education Fund in Washington.

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