Global aerospace firms are vying for the next major part of the nation's defence system: a computer network that will gather radar data to co-ordinate the launch of missiles and fighter jets. Defence executives, who expect the Air Force Air Defence to issue a formal request for proposals for a battle management system in the next few months, say it is critical to ensuring that expensive military hardware can destroy incoming missiles and enemy aircraft.
They expect the system to cost several hundred million dollars and expand as the UAE introduces new missile systems and radar technology. A number of international defence firms including Raytheon, Thales, Lockheed Martin, Boeing and Northrop Grumman expressed interest in supplying a battle management system to the UAE at this week's Dubai Air Show. "As the UAE acquires more defensive weapons systems, in order to get maximum benefit you need to be able to co-ordinate their use and you need to be able to react in the timelines governed by the speed of any potential attack," said Jim Julian, the director of C4I Systems at Thales Raytheon Systems, a joint venture firm that hopes to supply the new network.
The system is crucial "to prevent any potential destruction of your own aircraft", Mr Julian said. A unified battle management system is essentially a giant computer system that combines the data of hundreds of sensors from the air, sea and land into a coherent, simplified view for military commanders, said Paul Casey, the senior director of international business development for integrated systems at Lockheed Martin.
The system gives commanders a picture "of the blue forces at their disposal - either air, ground or maritime - and where the potential enemy or threat is", Mr Casey said. "The needs are for a joint system for the defence of your national territory," he said, referring to the UAE. "You have a requirement for the defence of your critical national infrastructure - and you have taken a joint view of this, not purely looking from an air force point of view."
The UAE has radars and a battle management system from Northrop Grumman that covers part of its needs, but operates other systems as well. The plan is for the new network to handle all defence functions and give a unified picture of threats to commanders across the country. It would also detect cyber attacks and give the Armed Forces options to respond in kind, executives said. Dennis Muilenburg, the president and chief executive of Boeing Integrated Defence Systems, is expecting a great amount of competition between major firms for the contract.
"We expect this to be a competitive marketplace," Mr Muilenburg said. "We are more than happy to compete any time we can have a fair and open competition." In sales pitches to the media and UAE military officials, the major defence firms each stressed their experience in fielding large systems, both in the region and in western countries. Raytheon's technology, for example, will play a key role in the new battle management system that is being deployed across members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation and will cost at least US$1 billion (Dh3.67bn), Mr Julian said.
And Raytheon's products already form a cornerstone of the GCC-wide Hizam al Ta'awun aircraft tracking system, he added. Lockheed Martin stressed the ability for its technology to be easily integrated with more advanced sensor and weapons systems, including new technologies deployed in space. "If you can add a space piece to it, then you will go beyond your typical sensing capabilities and you will be able to have truly a regional perspective," said Marty Thamm, a director for surveillance and navigation systems at Lockheed Martin Space Systems.
Northrop Grumman has the best idea of the UAE's needs, said Paul Kalafos, the vice president for international infrastructure systems at the company. "We know the UAE," Mr Kalafos said. "We don't take this competition lightly. We're confident they'll know the difference." @Email:email@example.com * additional reporting by Ivan Gale