The Technology Behind the UAE Air Force’s Desert Falcon

The most advanced F-16 fighter jets are to be found not in America, but in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). The F-16 “Desert Falcon” series is produced in a joint collaboration between the UAE and Lockheed Martin. The F-16 is also produced in several countries around the world, via subcontractor licensing.

The UAE air force’s F-16 pilots regularly participate in the Red Flag annual aerial combat training exercise held at Nellis Air Force Base in Las Vegas, Nevada. They also train in conjunction with US Air Force pilots at the UAE Al Dhafra Air Base’s Joint Warfare Center, and with the Arizona Air National Guard’s 148th Fighter Squadron.

Beginning development in the late 1970s, the F-16 was built to be a successor to the P-51 Mustang, and it inherited many features from the Mustang.

  • Larger fuel tanks
  • F110-GE-132 engine providing 32,500 pounds of thrust
  • Mission radius of 1,025 miles
  • AN/APG-80 AESA radar providing more power and better range
  • Agile-beam radar helps evade detection
  • ASQ-32 targeting allows passive targeting and aerial targeting
  • JHMCS helmet mounted display
  • Computer suite with 2,000x memory / 260x throughput compared to previous models

There are several classes of weapons which the United States will not deploy to another country for sensitive security reasons. However, UAE F-16s routinely carry:

  • Medium range, GPS/IIR-guided AGM-84H SLAM-ER cruise missiles
  • Short range AGM-154C JSOW glide bombs and GBU-39 Small Diameter Bombs
  • Short range AIM-9X Block II Sidewinder missiles

The software source code for F-16 control also is not provided, as the United States does not release its military-purpose source code. However, an “API” of sorts, the object code, is provided to the UAE along with documentation on developing the software in-house.


  • March 2000: UAE signs contract for 55 single-seat and 25 double-seat F-16s
  • December 2003: Maiden flight of first 80 F-16s at Fort Worth, Texas
  • September 2004: Pilot training begins at Tucson, Arizona

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