The UAE is also diversifying and creating offset policies that will help it build an indigenous defense industry. For example, Raytheon and Emirates Advanced Investments codeveloped the Talon laser-guided rocket, and the Fincantieri-Al Fattan Ship Industries joint venture has allowed the UAE to build its first warships. Lockheed Martin and Sikorsky are partnered with the Mubadala to provide aviation maintenance through the Advanced Military Maintenance, Repair and Overhaul Center. Companies such as the Streit and Paramount groups are setting up facilities in the country to build armored vehicles.
In addition, Saab recently announced it will team with Abu Dhabi-based Tawazun to create a new UAE-based radar company called Abu Dhabi Advanced Radar Systems (Adars). Saab says Adars will be “a local radar capability center for development of next-generation radar systems and for production, maintenance and support services in the radar-system area.”
The UAE has been one of the biggest spenders on defense in recent years, although its expenditures are starting to taper off. According to Eyal and other observers, this is because officials in the country have a better understanding of their requirements and specifications, recognizing that equipment that has proved effective in the U.S. or Western Europe may not work so well in the blazing heat of the desert.
“Countries such as the UAE and Qatar depend on high-technology systems—they need to because they don't have the manpower in the armed forces [that] their neighbors do,” Eyal notes.
“I am sure they wouldn't like the comparison, but the UAE and Qatar are rather like Israel, highly dependent on technology. They feel the need to invest in anti-ballistic missile systems and drones to restore the balance,” he says. The need for such technology may also explain why several major purchases are taking longer than expected, according to Eyal.
“Customers in this region are extremely savvy about what they are purchasing, and the bidding processes are a lot more considered now than they used to be,” says an industry official with close knowledge of the Typhoon purchase in Saudi Arabia.
For several years, contractors have been chasing the UAE's long-standing requirement for an airborne early warning capability. In 2009, the UAE air force acquired two Erieye-equipped Saab 340s that are now in service to provide an interim capability until officials decide on a longer-term program.
The air force is also looking for a new fighter to replace its Mirage 2000-9s; Eurofighter and Dassault are pushing the Typhoon and Rafale, respectively, with strong backing from senior government officials. The UAE's Mirage 2000-9s performed well in Operation Unified Protector, and six recently deployed to Nellis AFB, Nev., for a Green Flag exercise.
Qatar wants to replace its small fleet of Mirage 2000s as well, and is in process of a wide-scale modernization, choosing a new trainer, acquiring AW139 helicopters and looking at more tactical utility helicopters such as the UH- and MH-60S. NH Industries is offering the NH90 helicopter, which is used by Oman.