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Airforce modernization picks up pace in the Middle East

Tension in the Middle East has been expanding in recent years as the emergence of a new de factor leader in Saudi Arabia has led to the country reacting aggressively to what it perceives to be an expansion of Iranian influence and power in the Middle East. This tension is ultimately leading to a de facto arms race between the two powers wherein both also seek to stay ahead of the other from a technological point of view. Sanctions whilst holding back Iran in recent years have now been removed, and the country has subsequently acquired the Russian S-300 air missile defense system. This has alarmed the Arab Gulf nations strongly, as their technological advantage has been nullified to a large extent due to this Iranian acquisition. This has led both Turkey and the Saudis to acquire the S-400 Russian air missile defense system, leading to a scenario where players in the Middle East will now need to possess the latest fifth generation fighter jets in order to pose a significant air threat to each other.

The Arab Gulf nations in this context have been keen to acquire the US developed F-35 fighter jet which currently is operated only by Israel in the Middle East. However the US under its own legislation is duty bound to ensure that Israel always enjoys a technological advantage over other Middle Eastern nations. It therefore, despite wanting to, may not be able to sell its fifth generation fighter jet to the Saudis and the Emiratis. However with these nations extremely anxious to acquire this technological advantage over Iran as soon as possible, they may turn towards Russia or China to attain this advantage, breaking traditional military acquisition patterns in the region.

Meanwhile Turkey is developing its own fifth generation fighters, which it believes will allow it to compete with other nations in the region, including Israel with which it does not enjoy the warm relations it once did. In case of potential problems emerging in its fighter jet programme however, the Turks may also turn towards Russia or China to acquire their fifth generation fighters. Like the Saudis, Turkey, especially as a NATO member, has always operated Western arms and machinery. However in recent months it too has acquired Russian technology (S-400) and does not hence perceive the Russians or the Chinese as off-limits weapons suppliers anymore. However unlike the Emiratis and Saudis who will purchase a fifth generation fighter in the very near future, Turkey is not operating under the same urgency and is hence likely to wait. As for Saudi Arabia and the UAE however, the question is not will they acquire a fifth generation fighter jet soon, but rather from whom they will. In this context the heavy presence of a range of different fighter jet manufacturers at the Dubai Airshow becomes relevant.

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