Middle East Defense: Emirates Invest Billions to Stay on Top in Persian Gulf

By Tiron, Roxana | National Defense, May 2005 | Go to article overview

Middle East Defense: Emirates Invest Billions to Stay on Top in Persian Gulf


Tiron, Roxana, National Defense


Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates--Infusing billions of dollars into defense programs, this small Persian Gulf nation--in the shadow of Iran--is vastly increasing its military power.

The United Arab Emirates not only is purchasing jet fighters, tanks, ships and air-defense systems, but it also is beefing up its nuclear, biological and chemical defense capabilities, communications and early warning systems, while satisfying its insatiable need for trucks and armored vehicles, said Brigadier Staff Obaid Al Ketbi, one of the top UAE armed forces procurement officials.

In order to tie all its military resources together and be capable of rapid response, UAE officials are working on a joint-service logistics concept, Ketbi told National Defense.

"It will be an integrated joint logistics system for all the armed forces," he said. While the army, navy, coast guard and air force, with an estimated total of 60,000 personnel, are trained to operate together, "logistics still has to be worked on," he said. "We are trying to speed the process for joint logistics to be able to follow the operational side."

Military planners also take into account the government's desire to strengthen the domestic industrial base and build a close relationship with the private sector, Ketbi explained.

The UAE has worked on this project with Australia, which also is looking to adopt a concept for joint logistics, said Ketbi. UAE officials visited the United States to observe how logistics is conducted jointly. "I have to say that we are a little bit ahead," he observed.

With a flexible acquisition strategy, the UAE--which now has reached a gross domestic product of $93.6 billion--for years has opened its defense market to cutthroat competition from companies around the world. The UAE market is open to all competitors, Ketbi said. "We have specific requirements, and always try to acquire the best equipment that suits those requirements. This reflects the myriad of equipment from all over the world."

Terrorism concerns are determining the country's procurement and military training, said Ketbi. "Terrorism could come as a direct threat, electronic threat, [or] in the form of bombs," he said. "We are focusing on training to deal with all these scenarios." There is a lot of work and cooperation going on in this area, not only in the UAE, but in all the Gulf Cooperation Council countries: Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait, Oman and Bahrain.

The threat of weapons of mass destruction has become a heightened concern for the GCC countries, and the UAE's investments alone reflect that. The country is investing approximately $200 million to buy 22 of the latest generation Fuchs armored nuclear, biological, chemical detection vehicles built by the German company; Rheinmetall Landsysteme. This award comes after a four-year competition between Rheinmetall, SteyrDaimler-Puch, an Austrian company, and the United Kingdom's BAE Systems.

The Fuchs is an NBC reconnaissance vehicle, which is designed to spot agents both on the ground and in the air. The UAE systems will be built to the latest standards, said company officials. The Fuchs already is in use in the United States, Germany. United Kingdom, Saudi Arabia, Netherlands and Norway.

UAE forces, which operate in the desert, need considerable mobility, Ketbi said. Therefore, each year between August and September--the hottest months of the year, when temperatures reach 120 degrees Fahrenheit--the armed forces test their 4X4s.

"Everybody in the world is lining up for that," he said. "Specialized people drive them through the desert with no shade. They are driven from Abu Dhabi through all the Emirates." This competition has become a tradition, he added, and a way to pick the very best trucks.

The UAE has been just as stringent with the selection of its battle tank and armored vehicles. After years of disagreements over the contract, the country took the last delivery of its 388 Leclerc tanks from the French company, Giat Industries. …

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