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UAE unveils $1.36 billion in arms deals at defence show

Middle East | 2021-02-22 17:44:26
UAE unveils $1.36 billion in arms deals at defence show

The latest armoured vehicles are on display at an Abu Dhabi convention centre.

The biennial trade fair, the International Defense Exhibition and Conference, is Abu Dhabi's first major in-person event since the outbreak of the virus - a sign of its significance to the oil-rich emirate which has maintained tight movement restrictions in recent months.

Zoom won't suffice for the 70,000 attendees and 900 exhibitors who rely on the largest weapons expo in the Mideast to scout for potential clients and hawk their latest wares, from armoured vehicles to ballistic missiles.

Big American companies have turned up but are keeping a low profile. Lockheed Martin representatives standing beside models of stealth F-35 fighters are tight-lipped amid the Biden administration's review of several major foreign arms sales initiated by former President Donald Trump, including a massive $23 billion transfer of F-35 aircraft to the UAE.

Israeli COVID restrictions also prevent it from joining the expo, which would have been a first after it normalised relations with the UAE last year. A technician at the Israeli Aerospace Industry booth spent a good portion of the afternoon turning away disappointed potential customers.

The UAE unveiled $1.36 billion in local and foreign arms deals to supply its forces with everything from South African drones to Serbian artillery.

Although the figure surpasses the 2019 show's opening announcement, defence experts anticipate a drop in military spending this year as the pandemic and slumping global oil prices squeeze budgets in the Persian Gulf.

Plenty of countries have no qualms showing up during the pandemic, underscoring how many have boosted their exports in the region.

The flow of arms in the Middle East has increased by 61 percent over the past five years, according to a recent report from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.

At the pavilion for Saudi Arabia, ranked the world's largest weapons importer over the last five years, officials are trying to promote the kingdom as an emerging defence giant under its so-called Vision 2030.

The program, pushed by the powerful Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, aims to break the country's import addiction, diversifying its economy away from oil and localise more than half of its military spending.

"Only 7 percent or 5 percent of the defence spend is localised, that cannot continue. So in order to help in achieving the key objective of diversifying the economy, he's (Mohammed bin Salman) set the key target, said you need to achieve 50 percent of military spend to be localised by 2030," says Walid Abukhaled, CEO of Saudi Arabian Military Industries Company, a holding company owned by the country's sovereign wealth fund.

Despite its radar and U.S. Patriot missile batteries, Saudi Arabia has been increasingly at risk of cross-border attacks by the Iran-allied Houthis, which earlier this month launched bomb-laden drones that slammed into an empty passenger plane at the country's southwestern Abha airport.

"The threats are obvious lately. You have drones that coming from aggressive countries ... you have some missiles fired every now and then," explains Abukhaled.

Routine aerial attacks and rising tensions with Iran could help fuel military spending in the region, even as defence intelligence provider IHS Janes expects such expenditures in the Gulf to drop 9.4 percent to $90.6 billion in 2021, a result of the economic destruction wrought by the pandemic.
Associated Press
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