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UAE plans to buy Chinese aircraft after attacks by Houthi rebels

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ABU DHABI: The United Arab Emirates has said that it plans to buy a dozen Chinese L15 aircraft, as it seeks to bolster its defences after a series of attacks by Houthi rebels.

The UAE Defence Ministry said it intended to sign a contract with China National Aero-Technology Import & Export Corporation (CATIC) to purchase 12 of the L15 training and light combat aircraft, with the option for 36 additional jets of the same type, the official Emirati news agency WAM reported on Wednesday.

“We have reached the final stage in our talks with the Chinese side. The final contract will … be signed soon,” Tareq al Hosani, CEO of Tawazun Economic Council, was quoted as saying.

The value of the deal was not disclosed.

Tawazun was seeking to “develop the UAE’s defence capabilities and to achieve its strategic priorities”, WAM reported.

In December, the UAE threatened to scrap its mega-purchase of US F-35 fighter jets, protesting stringent conditions amid Washington’s concerns about China.

The UAE air force operates mainly American-made F-16 and French-made Mirage fighters. It ordered Rafale jets from France last year.

The US and UAE have yet to finalise a $23bn arms deal that includes the F-35 fighter jets.

Lawmakers from US President Joe Biden’s Democratic Party unsuccessfully sought to stop the sale, pointing in part to the Gulf state’s role in the Yemen war.

US officials have also been increasingly concerned by China’s involvement with the US ally.

But the UAE continues to plough money into drones, robots and other unmanned weaponry as autonomous warfare becomes more and more widespread – including in attacks on the Gulf country by Yemen’s Iran-backed Houthi rebels.

The wealthy Gulf country is part of the Saudi-led coalition that has been fighting the Houthis since 2015.

Although it withdrew ground troops in 2019, it remains a key player in the grinding conflict.

On January 17, a drone-and-missile assault by the Houthis killed three oil workers in Abu Dhabi, the first in a number of similar attacks on the UAE.

The US has deployed a warship and fighter planes to help protect the UAE.

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