A wave of fighter modernization across the Middle East and North Africa is proving to be a boon for industry both East and West.

And it is fair to say that without the Middle East market, some Western fighter aircraft types would have faded into history.

Production of the Lockheed Martin F-16 Fighting Falcon has been kept alive by Iraq’s order for Block 52 model F-16IQs, and Bahrain looks set  to sign up to a Foreign Military Sales (FMS) deal for upgraded and new-build F-16Vs before year-end.

And the Boeing F-15 Eagle’s production has been massively bolstered by Saudi Arabia’s order for 84 new-build F-15SA (Saudi Advanced) Eagles, while an extensive upgrade program will bring the country’s existing F-15S aircraft up to the same standard.

The Saudi Eagle programs are among the most complex and lucrative U.S. FMS programs ever.

Meanwhile, Kuwait’s April 2016 order for the Eurofighter Typhoon has prolonged Typhoon production until at least 2023, rather than its original end date of 2018.

These purchases have been driven by the need to modernize and increase capacity in the face of new threats, as well as by the call to work more closely with allies. Middle Eastern air forces are taking on a greater expeditionary warfare mission than the defensive stance they took before.

Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) are prime examples of this. A decade ago, their fighters were rarely seen beyond their borders, but the introduction of new airlift capabilities and tanker aircraft such as the Airbus A330 Multi-Role Tanker Transport—in service with both services—has given each nation a global reach.

Several times a year, fighters from Saudi Arabia and/or the UAE cross the Atlantic to participate in the multinational Red and Green Flag exercises at Nellis AFB, Nevada, building up closer relationships with international air forces. This year alone, Saudi fighters have also deployed to Sudan and Pakistan for joint exercises.

In the Saudi-led operation against the Houthi rebels in Yemen, the UAE has established a base just across the Red Sea in Assab, Eritrea, from which it flies Dassault Mirage 2000s. Reports suggest that UAE Mirage 2000s may also be flying from Al-Khadim airbase in Libya in support of the Libyan National Army forces fighting in the area. 

The Royal Saudi Air Force has deployed F-15s to Turkey’s Incirlik airbase in support of the U.S. led-operations against the Islamic State group.

The Saudi-led coalition has also included fighters from Egypt, Kuwait and Morocco.

In 2015, Jordanian and Israeli deployments to a Red Flag exercise revealed a high level of trust and cooperation between the two countries, as the Jordanian fighters refueled from the Israeli tankers en route to Nevada.

Less clear is Qatar’s plan for an enlarged fighter capability. Having placed orders for the Dassault Rafale and, more recently, for the F-15QA, Doha has also signed letters of intent for the Eurofighter Typhoon, which when combined would create a three-type fleet of 84-96 fighters, eight times larger than Qatar’s existing fleet.

There is little doubt that Doha has the cash to purchase and operate the aircraft, but whether a fleet is sustainable in the long term is unclear. The country will have to lean heavily on the nations supplying them, and some doubt whether the Gulf country has enough pilots or personnel to fly or maintain that number of aircraft.

Saudi Arabia has much to do to integrate the new F-15SA into service, and uncertainty surrounds the purchase of a second batch of Typhoons. Delivery of all 72 Typhoons under the UK-Saudi Al-Salam deal was completed in September, but UK defense exports to Saudi have been mired in controversy over a judicial review brought about by Britain’s Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) initiative. While the Saudis prevailed in the review, the campaign group is pursuing an appeal. BAE Systems is understood to have offered final assembly of any new Typhoons at a site in Dhahran to appeal to Riyadh, in a similar move to Saudi assembly of new Hawk jet trainers. However, Riyadh is unlikely to make any decision while the CAAT appeal is ongoing.

Several nations are still mulling offers. The replacement for the UAE’s fleet of Mirage 2000 fighters continues to be contested by the Eurofighter consortium with the Typhoon and Dassault with the Rafale, but it is unclear whether there has been any real progress. The UAE reportedly desires involvement in the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program, but this is unlikely to happen in the near future, given that Israel has only just begun receiving the type. The Israeli lobby in Washington has been highly effective at ensuring that advanced types do not reach its neighbors until 5-10 years after Tel Aviv does.

However, Russia contends that it is making inroads in meeting Emirati requirements. In February, Russian officials announced that Moscow and Abu Dhabi would work together on the development of a fifth-generation fighter, and Russian media assert that the UAE could sign a deal for Sukhoi Su-35 fighters during the Dubai Airshow.

Russia has also made progress in getting back into Egypt, where a new fleet of Mikoyan MiG-29M/M2s—also known as MiG-35s—is being delivered, adding yet another type to Egypt’s burgeoning fighter inventory. In the last 36 months, Egypt has also taken delivery of its first Rafales and Block 52-model F-16C/Ds. It is unclear what Cairo plans to do with its aging fleet of MiG-21s, Chengdu F-7s, Mirage Vs and 2000s, however.

In the coming years, it is likely that countries such as Morocco and Tunisia will be open to new fighter sale campaigns.

Although Morocco has introduced the F-16 to its inventory, it is unclear whether there will be replacement programs for the Mirage F1 and the Northrop F-5, both of which remain in frontline service. The latter continues to serve Tunisia as its primary frontline aircraft, but a replacement will likely have to come online in the next 5-7 years.