The UAE and the United States form a united front line of defense in a dangerous and turbulent Middle East. US-supplied advanced defense systems help the UAE protect its own and its shared strategic interests with the US.
The UAE Air Force operates the most technologically advanced US-made F-16 aircraft — the Block 60, also known as the “Desert Falcon.” In close cooperation with the US, the UAE has used these advanced aircraft against violent extremists, to confront aggression, protect vital shipping routes, and promote regional stability.
In December 2020, the US sale of the F-35 Lightning II aircraft and other advanced defense systems to the UAE passed Congressional review. These advanced capabilities will enable the UAE to take on more responsibility for collective security in the Middle East, a key objective of the US National Defense Strategy.
Military Assistance and Cooperation
Bilateral security cooperation has broadened significantly since the 1990 Gulf War. Recognizing shared strategic interests and priorities, the UAE and US signed a formal defense cooperation agreement in 1994, providing for joint training and exercises, the prepositioning of US military equipment in the UAE and the transfer of advanced weapons systems. An updated defense cooperation agreement came into force in May 2019.
The UAE is only one of three countries and the only Arab nation to participate with the US in six coalition actions over the last 30 years: Afghanistan, Libya, Somalia, Bosnia-Kosovo, the 1990 Gulf War and the fight against ISIS. The UAE has deployed forces and/or provided assistance in:
- Afghanistan: UAE special forces fought alongside US and coalition soldiers in Afghanistan for more than a decade. From 2012 to 2014, the UAE Air Force committed F-16s to support the NATO-led security mission in Afghanistan. Gen. John Allen, then the top US commander in Afghanistan, considered UAE pilots to be among the highest trained in the coalition and utilized their skills to fly close air-support missions to protect coalition forces on the ground.
- Somalia: In 1992 the UAE joined other countries, led by the US Central Command, to secure the environment and provide humanitarian relief. The UAE is also fighting piracy and helping to stabilize Somalia.
- Bosnia-Kosovo: The UAE was among the first non-NATO states to express support for NATO’s air operations. The UAE participated in peacekeeping operations, and provided humanitarian assistance during and after the conflict.
- 1990 Gulf War: The UAE was one of the first countries to support the United States at the advent of the war.
- NATO-led Intervention in Libya: In 2011, the UAE committed six F-16s, among other fighter aircraft, to participate in patrols that enforced the United Nations-imposed no-fly zone over Libya. The UAE Air Force partnered closely with the US 363rd Flying Training Group at Al Dhafra Air Base in Abu Dhabi to prepare for the mission. Well-established relationships with US counterparts enabled the UAE F-16s to deploy to theater within 72 hours, providing timely support to US and coalition forces.
- Fight Against ISIS: The UAE was a contributing member of the Global Coalition Against ISIS (Deash) beginning in the early days of the military operation against ISIS targets. UAE Air Force F-16 pilot Major Mariam Al Mansouri became the first Emirati woman to fly combat missions, spearheading airstrikes against ISIS positions in Syria.
The UAE provides ongoing and essential support for US forces, and contributes to efforts to fight terrorism and extremism, while working to increase stability and peace in the region. The UAE is:
- Combating extremists such as Al Qaeda and AQAP.
- Supporting a peaceful transition in Yemen and preventing extremist control.
- Actively supporting the Mideast peace process.
- Hosting the headquarters for Hedayah, the new Global Center for Excellence in Countering Violent Extremism. Hedayah was created in response to the growing desire from Global Counter-Terrorism Forum members and the wider international community for the establishment of an independent, multilateral center devoted to training, dialogue, collaboration, and research.
- Providing critical logistics support for US Navy fleet operations; US Naval vessels visit UAE ports more than any other foreign ports in the world.
- Supporting US Air Force operations by assisting with logistics at facilities in the UAE.
- Hosting the Joint Air Warfare Center and joint training exercises with US forces.
The UAE is meeting its commitments to Iraq reconstruction by providing important financial and in-kind support, including medical treatment, hospital reconstruction, humanitarian supplies and police training.
Shutting Down Terror Finance Networks
The UAE has frozen the accounts of known terrorists and enacted aggressive anti-money-laundering initiatives. New counter-terrorist financing laws and regulations have been introduced and enforced, and in 2005 the UAE committed to the International Convention on the Suppression of the Financing of Terrorism.
Protecting US-Bound Shipments and Helping Secure Global Energy Supply
Dubai is an important global port for container traffic and the first Middle East entity to join the Container Security Initiative (CSI). In a multinational program to protect global trade from terrorism, CSI stations US Customs officers inside Dubai's ports. The UAE also secures the delivery of oil and gas supplies to world energy markets.
Preventing the Spread of Dangerous Nuclear Materials
Dubai was the first Middle East entity to join the Department of Energy's Megaports Initiative, aimed at stopping illicit shipments of radioactive material. The UAE has committed to the International Convention on the Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism and is a signatory to the Arab Convention for the Suppression of Terrorism. Setting the highest standards for safety, security and non-proliferation, the UAE’s strong alliance with the US facilitated the world-renowned 123 Agreement.
The UAE and the United States share a deep concern over Iran’s aggression in the region and its impact on peace and stability. The UAE fully supports and enforces United Nations Security Council resolutions barring shipment of sensitive materials and technologies to Iran.
Located just across the Gulf, the UAE and Iran have historic ties, including a significant trading relationship. The UAE, with the Gulf Cooperation Council, seeks a region free of weapons of mass destruction.
For over a decade, the UAE deployed a military presence to support the NATO-led mission in Afghanistan. The UAE Armed Forces on the ground were focused on the protection of humanitarian initiatives and ensuring safety and stability for local communities. Personnel were also directly involved in culturally sensitive community development activities, especially necessitating knowledge of the Arabic language or Islamic traditions, alongside representatives of key humanitarian organizations such as the Red Crescent. From 2012 to 2014, the UAE Air Force committed F-16s to fly close air-support missions to protect coalition forces on the ground in Afghanistan. Australia was the only other non-NATO nation whose forces were permitted to fly such missions.
UAE-US Defense Cooperation
The UAE and US Armed Forces regularly cooperate on both training and operational missions and exercises to strengthen this important alliance. In order to enhance combat readiness and communication with allies, UAE Air Force F-16 pilots regularly participate in the Red Flag aerial combat exercise hosted by the US Air Force at Nellis Air Force Base in Las Vegas, Nevada. The UAE is among the small number of non-NATO US allies invited to participate in this exercise, reflecting the strength of the US-UAE security partnership as well as the superior training and capabilities of UAE Air Force pilots.