UAE’s Ministry of Defence (MoD) has signed a AED6.05bn ($1.67bn) contract with US’ Lockheed Martin to upgrade its fleet of 80 F-16 fighter aircraft.

The contract entails upgrading the aircraft’s on-board equipment that includes specialised processors and computers, according to Ishaq Saleh al-Baloushi, executive director at MOD’s Defence Industry and Capability Development.

“We received the aircraft in 2005 and we have been very happy with their performance… this upgrade is meant to keep them flying smoothly over the next 15 years,” Al-Baloushi said on the sidelines of the ongoing Dubai Airshow.

The existing fleet of 80 jet fighters includes several replacements, although Al-Baloushi declined to indicate how many of the original 80 aircraft have been lost and replaced.

MEED understands one of the UAE’s jet fighters crashed in Yemen as recently as mid-October, while another crash, also in Yemen, was reported in March 2016.

The UAE’s F-16 E/F Block 60 are considered more advanced that the Block 50/52 used by the US Air Force. The UAE’s fleet is considered a lower-budget alternative to the F-35A Joint Strike Fighter. It is understood that their performance figures and broad sensor array will keep them ahead of pending F-16 modernisations in other countries that include South Korea and Singapore.

Both Al-Baloushi and Abdullah al-Sayed al-Hashemi, chief of the Military Committee and spokesman for the UAE Armed Forces, maintained that the deal is consistent with the long-term modernisation strategy of UAE’s defence fleet.

Both ruled out any acceleration in spending due to the seemingly growing tension in the region. “[Our] region has always been in conflict, so we constantly invest in defence and security,” Al-Hashemi said.