Abu Dhabi // As defence contractors and military officials descend upon Abu Dhabi for the International Defence Exhibition and Conference (IDEX) opening today, the Government is drawing to a close campaigns for arms contracts worth nearly US$10 billion (Dh36.73bn). IDEX is the largest arms expo in the region, a semi-annual, five-day event where 900 exhibitors line the ADNEC convention centre halls with anti-tank missiles, armoured vehicles, mortar bombs and small arms. This year, the UAE could use the event to announce deals for a high-altitude missile defence system, an airborne early warning radar system and training jets, as well as smaller deals.
The contracts are part of a historic buying spree among Gulf states for arms and defence systems. According to the US Congressional Research Service, Gulf states purchased $88bn in arms between 1988 and 2007. Some of the UAE's recent deals involve joint development programmes, underscoring the country's resolve to build a home-grown defence industry. The biggest potential sale at IDEX could be the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) missile system from Lockheed Martin, worth a potential $7bn.
The pending contract follows more than $5bn worth of lower-altitude missile defence systems from Raytheon and Lockheed Martin, purchased by the UAE in December. Saab, Northrop Grumman and Boeing are vying for an estimated $1bn in an early warning system composed of aircraft mounted with radar and communications equipment. The powerful radar systems are able to identify vessels and airborne threats across millions of cubic kilometres of airspace, from ground level to 30,000 metres, and up to 500km away in any direction.
Theodore Karasik, the director of research at the Institute for Near East and Gulf Military Analysis, said the favourite in this competition was Northrop Grumman, which is also outfitting the US navy fleet in the Gulf with the same E-2D Hawkeye aircraft. "It fits exactly what the [UAE] is searching for," he said. In the jet competition, Korea Aerospace Industries (KAI) and Lockheed Martin are competing against Alenia Aermacchi of Italy for advanced trainers that will help pilots prepare to fly the Air Force's F-16 fleet.
Alenia officials say their rival, KAI's T-50 Golden Eagle, a light combat aircraft in its own right, is too advanced for pilot training. KAI officials argue the T-50 has trained the Korean air force for two years, while the Alenia M-346 is still being developed. In a separate competition, Pilatus of Switzerland and Alenia Aermacchi are competing to supply "basic" trainer jets. Together, the basic and advanced jet contracts could top $1bn in value.
Smaller deals could also be announced. In 2007, the Armed Forces announced Dh1.34bn in smaller arms deals during the event, including air tankers, mortars, pistols, fast patrol boats and aircraft maintenance contracts The record demand will see all 12 halls at ADNEC filled for the show. Demonstrations of military vehicles will take place on an obstacle track with 5,000 square metres of sand, while Al Bateen channel has been dredged to accommodate frigate-sized warships, and is connected to IDEX by a new walkway.