ABU DHABI // The UAE military took part in a dramatic hostage-rescue operation yesterday as the elite Presidential Guard stormed a hijacked ship with close air support from Chinook and Apache helicopters.
The clue that lives were not actually at risk was the presence of military bands from the UAE, Australia and New Zealand, as well as Abu Dhabi Police.
The occasion was the opening of the 10th International Defence Exhibition (Idex) by Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, and Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces.
The military "excercise" also featured the Emirati Presidential Guard and bombing runs by the country's Mirage fighter jet fleet, and climaxed with an energetic display from five Emirati Mirage 2000s and five F-16 Desert Falcons, the UAE Air Force's main fighter jets.
Images obtained by an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle were beamed to a large screen, showing the craft's capacity for intelligence-gathering in support of sensitive operations.
The Presidential Guard also demonstrated the storming of a bunker with a high-value target hidden inside, as part of another counter-terrorism display, along with a simulated bombing run of the bunker by Mirage planes.
The large-scale mobility exercise included dozens of tanks, artillery and armoured vehicles, a series of French Leclerc battle tanks, G6 howitzer self-propelled guns and Pantsir-S1 surface-to-air missiles mounted on vehicles, all belonging to the UAE.
Dozens of military vehicles proceeded down the field at the Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Centre. The military also showcased amphibious vehicles and a portable bridge that can be deployed across rivers.
The UAE also unveiled the Nimir (Tiger), an armoured vehicle and the first military product fully produced by Emiratis. Tawazun Holding, the company that manufactures it, says Nimir is ideal for tough desert conditions.
More than 1,000 companies are participating in Idex this year, with 32 country pavilions and 50,000 visitors expected at the region's premier defence industry gathering.
Delegations of top military officials from the UAE and abroad attended yesterday's opening.
In a statement before the launch, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid said the event was not intended to fuel an arms race in a region noted for its defence spending.
"In the UAE we do not see Idex or the Dubai Air Show as stages for an arms race in the region, as some claim, but we look at them from an economic, tourism and technological viewpoint," he said.
Idex takes place alongside the inaugural Naval Defence Exhibition (Navdex), and the UAE has said it plans to match the $18.5 billion (Dh67.94bn) in arms deals announced at the last Idex in 2009.
Military experts will be looking for signs of whether the UAE might make a decision about modernising its fighter-jet fleet. The UAE has been eyeing the French Rafale fighters since 2008, but there are also rumours that the country is interested in the F/A-18 Super Hornet, made by Boeing in the US. The new planes would replace the existing fleet of Mirages.
Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid also inaugurated Al Hosn (Stronghold), a naval vessel built entirely in the UAE by the Abu Dhabi Ship Building Company. The ship is the second Baynunah-class corvette out of six boats ordered by the Emirati Navy in a deal worth Dh4bn.
Sheikh Mohammed called the inauguration of the boat an achievement for the Armed Forces, which he said is the "shield that protects the gains of our nation".