The UAE's military, a force to be reckoned with

On the 35th anniversary of the unification of the Armed Forces, officials and experts applaud the military's bravery and dedication.

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ABU DHABI // On the eve of the Armed Forces' 35th anniversary today, officials and security experts applauded the young military for its role in keeping the region safe and secure.

"This anniversary comes at a time when we're seeing the Armed Forces show more progress," said Riad Kahwaji, the chief executive of the Institute of Near East and Gulf Military Analysis in Dubai.

"Our Armed Forces are taking on bigger challenges in terms of world security," Mr Kahwaji said. "It has come a long, long way in such a short time."

In March alone, the Armed Forces have played a role in peacekeeping efforts in the region, sending troops to Bahrain and working with coalition forces to enforce a no-fly zone over Libya.

That the military has risen to these challenges proves that the Armed Forces are on par with the world's most powerful militaries, said Dr Mustafa Alani, director of the security and defence department at the Gulf Research Centre in Dubai.

"We live in a tough neighbourhood," Dr Alani said. "If you don't have self-defence capabilities, your survivability is questionable, so a strong armed forces based on technology is an absolute requirement for every state. We cannot be intimidated or bullied."

The Armed Forces were unified on May 6, 1976. The unification merged the Abu Dhabi Defence Force, the Dubai Defence Force, the Sharjah National Guard and the Mobile Force of Ras al Khaimah, along with small protection forces from the other emirates.

Today, the Armed Forces comprise about 50,000 active-duty troops, with approximately 4,000 in the Air Force and 2,500 in the Navy, according to statistics from the US Department of State.

To honour the 35th anniversary, military and political leaders publicly lauded the Armed Forces for making the vision of the founding fathers a reality.

Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed, President of the UAE, commended the courage and patriotism of the Armed Forces in a speech published in Dira al Watan (National Shield) magazine.

"We reaffirm the fact that the fundamental duty of our Armed Forces is to defend the homeland, thereby protecting its security and stability," Sheikh Khalifa said. "We realise also that our national security is inseparable from regional and international security.

"This conviction entails certain responsibilities and obligations within the framework of our military doctrine, which is based on the solid defence of just causes, full respect of the valid laws and a firm commitment to principles."

Officials recognised the unification as a milestone for the nation, a moment that helped the UAE become "a modern institutional state".

"Modernisation was based not only on purely military terms, but also on absolute conviction that armed forces were the cornerstone of our federation, our identity, a main supplier of human resources and a guarantee for balanced all-out development, which cannot be stable without a strong arm to defend it against any aggressor," said Lt Gen Hamad al Romaithi, the Armed Forces chief of staff.

Dr Alani said he hoped to see the military continue to grow and improve - but not in the usual way.

"The UAE has a small population, and we want, and need, our young people in the economic and education sectors," Dr Alani said. "I'd like to see technology replace people and reduce our reliance on the human factor.

"We have one of the strongest militaries in the region, so we can make this happen."