The United Arab Emirates (UAE) may halt their plans to purchase two French-made satellites due to the discovery of several US produced components that could allow surreptitious access to the intelligence gathered by the equipment.
“The discovery was reported to the deputy supreme commander’s office [Sheikh Mohammed Bin Zayed] in September,” a source told Defense News. “We have requested the French to change these components and also consulted with the Russian and Chinese firms.”
The UAE had contracted with the French to buy two “high-resolution Pleiades-type Falcon Eye military observation satellites” for $930 million, but are threatening to cancel the contract with Airbus Defence and Space and Thales Alenia Space over the incident.
“If this issue is not resolved, the UAE is willing to scrap the whole deal,” the undisclosed source claimed.
Some experts in the field have questioned the fact that the French would employ any US components in their highly prized Pleiades spy satellite systems, especially ones critical enough to operations that they could “provide a back door to the highly secure data transmitted to the ground station.”
Others argue that the complex technology involved necessitates the use of some US technologies, and believe the concerns over the US-made components may be a ploy by the UAE to drive down the high cost of the project.
“The satellites would be part of a big package deal. It’s not surprising. The UAE drives a hard bargain. They’re using it as a lever of power,” a French defense specialist noted.
The contract was signed last July after a a nearly ten-year long bidding process for the project, and the satellites were slated to be delivered in 2018. Globally, concerns over supply-chain security and the risk of hardware backdoors has been increasing in recent years.
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