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, Steyr-Daimler-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.
The Leclerc weighs 56 tons and can go from zero to 36 kilometers
an hour in less than six seconds. It uses the NATO 120 mm gun with
an automatic loading system. The tank is equipped with composite
and modular protection and each vehicle is outfitted with a battle
The UAE also put an order worth approximately $3.5 billion for
46 armored recovery vehicles. Also, from the French, the UAE took
delivery at the end of last year of 24 Vehicule Blinde Leger, in
short VBL, built by Panhard. Known on the international market as
the “ULTRAV,” the lightweight armored vehicle gained
fame serving with the French detachments in the former Yugoslavia.
The UAE late last year also received the first delivery of the
Russian KBP Instrument Design Bureau Pantsir-S1 self-propelled air-defense
systems, which the country custom-ordered in mid-2000 for a price
tag of more than $500 million. The final delivery of the 50 systems
is scheduled for this year. The Pantsir-S1 is mounted on an 8x8
truck and its turret holds 12 modified SA-19 missiles with a range
of 39,000 feet, said officials. The Pantsir has tracking and surveillance
radars and electro-optical sensors.
Placing strong emphasis on its communications networks, the UAE
awarded, during its bi-annual military show IDEX, a contract worth
approximately $150 million to Rohde & Schwarz of Germany. In
the next two years, the company will modernize the communications
system of the entire armed forces, said Ketbi.
Rohde & Schwarz specializes in communications, as well as test
and measurement equipment. The company has had close business relations
with the UAE for a number of years. As early as 1993, for example,
Rohde & Schwarz set up a center in the UAE to service, calibrate
and repair its equipment. Last year, Rohde & Schwarz was awarded
a contract to modernize the radio-communications system of the UAE
navy, said company reports.
Meanwhile, the UAE’s plans to acquire Northrop Grumman’s
E-2C Hawkeye 2000 early warning aircraft have been scrapped after
the United States prohibited the full release of the Link-16 communications
relay system. The Emirates are planning to restart a competition
to acquire this capability, said Ketbi.
With a variety of equipment from all over the world, compatibility
becomes a critical issue for the UAE armed forces, said Ketbi. Interoperability
“is being set and determined before the program is signed,”
he explained. “We always look for interfaces ... You may have
to pay more, but if you start at the beginning, you avoid any complications.”
To be able to operate a broad range of equipment, “you have
to have your own model,” he noted. That is why the one that
the Emirates chose is “effective and can suit a lot of requirements,”
he added. As part of its model, the UAE sends its officers around
the world to train with and observe other militaries. Troops are
sent to the United States, Australia, Canada, France, India, Pakistan,
Jordan and Egypt, said Ketbi.
Jointness is a buzzword in this small desert nation. “We
have joint training and a joint strategy for homeland security,
not only within the armed forces, but also with civil defense and
everyone else involved in it,” Ketbi said. Every year, two
to three training exercises are scheduled, he explained.
Multi-national training exercises also are crucial, Ketbi said.
“There is much of that going on with the United States, Europe
and the GCC countries,” he said. “It is important to
have similar equipment, and we need close coordination and communication.”
Over time, the UAE has participated in a series of peacekeeping
and humanitarian missions, Ketbi added. Its forces were present
in Somalia, Lebanon, Bosnia, Afghanistan and Iraq, where the UAE
offered health services.