Defence companies in the UAE are increasingly looking beyond the Arabian Gulf region and are targeting clients in Europe and beyond. Such moves come as this country, one of the world's largest arms exporters, seeks to develop its domestic defence industry.
London's four-day Defence and Security Equipment International (DSEI) exhibition, which concludes on Friday, is the setting for a major push to raise the UAE's defence industries profile, under the leadership of the Abu Dhabi-based Tawazun Economic Council.
"DSEI is a great opportunity for the global defence industry to come together, sharing challenges, experience and expertise," Tareq Al Hosani, the chief executive of the Tawazun Economic Council, told The National.
“Tawazun is focused on partnering with foreign and national defence companies as well as bringing investments and the latest technologies into the UAE, thereby helping foster a knowledge-based economy and creating business opportunities for UAE SMEs and companies."
The UAE Pavilion at the exhibition features a number of companies promoting their "Made in UAE" products and services, including Nimr Automotive, Abu Dhabi Ship Building, Al Hosn Armouring Systems, International Golden Group, Atlas Telecoms and the National Defense Companies Council (NDCC).
The pavilion will also hosts delegates from the UAE’s Ministry of Defence and the GHQ of the UAE Armed Forces. Tawazun also plans to host the seventh Defence Contractors Council (DCC) meeting in London, which will be held on DSEI’s sidelines.
“The ambition in the UAE is limitless,” said the UK’s defence attache in Abu Dhabi, Colonel Tim Kingsberry. “They have already started to compete internationally.”
The UAE was the world's third-largest arms importer from 2012-16, trailling only India and Saudi Arabia, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. Nearly two-thirds of those imports were from the US, with France the next biggest supplier with 12 per cent.
The UK - which issued export licences worth £353 million (Dh1.72 billion) in the past three years - said on Tuesday that the UAE was one of its key targets in an export push for its hi-tech weaponry. The UK trade secretary Liam Fox said billions of pounds of export credits were available to British manufacturers to make further inroads into the lucrative market.
Almost 60 per cent of UK arms have gone to the Middle East over the last decade with the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Bahrain among those invited to this year’s event in east London, according to the 56-country guest list. The event included maritime demonstrations, and exhibits demonstrating the latest missile, drone and cyber technology.
The UAE defence industry is tiny compared with international competition, with some of the UAE exhibitors saying they relied on US and European technology for their products, such as aircraft fitting firm Atlasaerospace. Director Ali Al Marzooqi said he was using the event to secure tie-ups with foreign firms rather than sell his services overseas.
One of the most prominent of the UAE companies at the conference, the armoured vehicle maker NIMR, has positioned itself in the past 12 months to compete outside of the Middle East region for the first time, and go head-to-head with major international players, according to a senior official.
NIMR is an example of the domestic ambition to make inroads into the global market.
The company has struck deals with Algeria and the Czech Republic to build light armoured vehicles as well as continuing to supply its main customer, the UAE military, and is also looking to secure deals in Slovakia, Poland and Romania.
“A growing defence industry has to rely not just on having one customer but on regional and wider export business,” said the NIMR's sales manager Miles Chambers.
The company is promoting its armoured vehicles by highlighting their use in combat in desert conditions.
“These are latest generation products in some of the harshest environments and Eastern Europe customers may end up deploying them in operations in Afghanistan and Iraq,” said Mr Chambers.
The security consultancy Etimad Holdings was also on the UAE's stand at the conference to promote its border and city surveillance systems.
The company was cited by defence officials as a home-grown business using UAE technology, while many exporters relied on foreign components.
“We’re looking to go worldwide,” said Mohamed Al Dhaheri, representing the company.