UAE 'wants to be more self-reliant'

A military trade mission will be organised here next month as the nation looks at creating local jobs and manufacturing through bolstering its defence industry.

ABU DHABI // A government-backed trade mission next month will try to lure US defence and aerospace subcontractors to the UAE. The mission, part of an ongoing effort to develop a local defence industry, will include between 40 and 50 defence and aerospace subcontractors visiting the country.

They include companies that make parts for ground vehicles, and others that specialise in maintenance and repair, air defence and perimeter security. There are also firms that develop defence software and consult on security. The mission has been organised by the trade office at the UAE Embassy in Washington and the US-UAE Business Council, as well as retired Lt Gen Larry Farrell, the president and chief executive of the National Defence Industrial Association in the US.

"We see this delegation as bringing to the plate new partnerships, new facilities and new industries being created," said Saud al Nowais, the director of the trade office at the UAE Embassy. Developing a defence industry would offer the UAE not only more advanced weapons systems, but also the security of having multiple sources for parts, and even a measure of self-sufficiency. "The UAE wants to be more self-reliant, wants to create capability at home," said Danny Sebright, the president of the US-UAE Business Council. "It wants to create jobs and a future for its people in these sectors, and it's worried about the regional security situation in which it lives."

Beyond that, there is the hope to be able to supply parts to other militaries in the Gulf region. "The UAE sees itself as a leading innovator for indigenous defence industry in the region, not only for itself but also for other countries that may want to purchase items," said Dr Theodore Karasik, the head of research and development at the Institute for Near East and Gulf Military Analysis in Dubai.

Mr Sebright said the main potential clients of a UAE defence industry would include government entities such as the Critical National Infrastructure Authority, which protects coastal, oil and nuclear facilities. The companies will be geared primarily towards fulfilling the needs of the UAE armed forces, he said. In the event of any integration between Gulf militaries, the UAE would be in an excellent position to develop equipment that could be used throughout the region, Dr Karasik said.

The UAE hopes to train more Emiratis to work in a local defence industry. Mr al Nowais said any partnerships would include education and training for nationals. A local defence industry would ideally involve companies that manufacture parts and others that manufacture complete systems. "Something like a Dreamliner aircraft, for example, is never going to be made in one country anymore," Mr Sebright said. "In 20 years from now the UAE might be the assembler or manufacturer or final integrator of a finished product."

The business council projects that UAE defence spending will rise. According to Sipri, a think tank that collects data on international arms transfers, the UAE was the fourth-biggest arms buyer in the world between 2005 and 2009. The GCC is not involved in costly military adventures and counter-terrorism operations, has a more streamlined way of procuring weapons systems and is buoyed by oil revenues, Dr Karasik said. Many western powers are trying to curb defence spending.

"You add to that a situation where we're pulling our combat troops out of Iraq, we're looking closely at the Afghanistan mission, and the US defence department is being asked to scale back its contracts," Mr Sebright said. "So now the foreign markets become even more important." Location also helps. "The UAE geographically is situated right in the middle of what would be considered a very hot zone that for the foreseeable future it will be easier to build, fix, repair, tear down, rebuild, maintain in this country instead of flying or shipping something somewhere else that's further away," Dr Karasik said.

Mr Sebright added: "From the US military perspective, the Central Command and the US forces in the region, they appreciate in many key sectors when there are other suppliers in the region that they can turn to" in a crisis.