The Trump administration is going ahead with the sale of General Atomics Aeronautical Systems MQ-9B drones to the United Arab Emirates, a major shift in US policy. Credit: Courtesy General Atomic.

US President Donald Trump may be evicted from the White House eventually, but it appears his military policy regarding the UAE has not altered one inch.

In fact, it’s going full steam ahead.

According to CNN sources, the US State Department informed Congress this week of the Trump administration’s intent to sell 18 armed MQ-9B drones to the United Arab Emirates for an estimated US$2.9 billion.

The department also informed Congress the administration intends to sell approximately US$10 billion in ordnance, including precision-guided munitions, so-called “dumb” bombs, air-to-air missiles, and air-to-ground missiles, said the aide, who spoke anonymously.

This comes a week after President Donald Trump’s administration issued an informal notice to Congress of an intended sale of 50 F-35 jets to the oil-rich Gulf nation. That sale is estimated at around US$10 billion, CNN reported.

The sale of the advanced fighter jets to the UAE was reportedly put on the fast track by the Trump administration as it worked to establish diplomatic relations between the UAE and Israel. That sale could be formalized in the next few months.

The State Department did not comment on the notification to Congress for the drone sale.

A department official told CNN: “As a matter of policy, the Department does not publicly confirm or comment on proposed defense sales or transfers until they have been formally notified to Congress.”

Commenting on the intended F-35 sales to the UAE, House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot Engel said the move required “careful consideration.”

“This technology would significantly change the military balance in the Gulf and affect Israel’s military edge,” the New York Democrat said last week.

“The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter is a game-changing stealth platform boasting advanced strike capability and unique sensor technology. The export of this aircraft requires very careful consideration and Congress must analyze all the ramifications. Rushing these sales is not in anyone’s interest.”

Under US policy, the United States is committed to maintaining Israel’s “qualitative military edge” (QME) — the comparative technological, tactical, and other advantages in its weapons that allow Israel to still maintain military superiority in the region.

US Defense Secretary Mark Esper has met several times with his Israeli counterpart Benny Gantz in recent weeks and has reiterated the US commitment to Israel’s QME, CNN reported.

While we don’t know the exact configuration of the drones that the UAE might be approved to buy, the General Atomics Aeronautical Systems MQ-9B Sky Guardian is the “Type Certifiable” variant of the USAF’s MQ-9 Reaper that’s configured to meet airworthiness certification standards around the world, The War Zone reported.

General Atomics also offers a maritime surveillance version of the MQ-9B drone, also referred to as the Sea Guardian. Credit: General Atomics.

Media reports also makes it clear that the drones will be armed, or at least capable of carrying weapons. The first customer for the Sky Guardian was the British Royal Air Force, which has named the drone Protector RG1, and it was subsequently selected by Australia and Belgium.

General Atomics also offers a maritime surveillance version of the MQ-9B, also referred to as the Sea Guardian, which notably features a surface search radar, The War Zone reported.

A potential sale of four “weapons-ready” Sea Guardian UAVs to Taiwan, at an estimated cost of US$600 million, was announced three days ago.

The Taiwanese deal specifically includes Raytheon’s SeaVue Maritime Multi-Role Patrol Radar, which the company says has a “proven ability to detect small maritime vessels in high sea states including the stealthy, self-propelled semi-submersible craft that pose a significant threat to homeland security.”

The UAE is also seeking a package of Boeing Co EA-18G Growlers, an electronic warfare version of the two-seat F/A-18F Super Hornet aircraft, that are capable of jamming radar and other advanced capabilities. Growlers are operated by the US and Australia, Al Jazeera reported.

(Update: The US has approved the sale of a US$23.37 billion package of “advanced defense capabilities” to the UAE, including “up to 50” F-35 fighter jets, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement Nov. 10.)

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