ABU DHABI // The UAE will invest in ships with cutting-edge technology to better secure its waters against maritime threats such as piracy and terrorism.
The chief of the Navy outlined his vision for the force's future at a maritime security conference yesterday in the capital.
"The Navy has to operate with a limited number of men, so we need to operate ships with advanced technological capabilities to compensate," said Rear Admiral Ibrahim Salem Al Musharakh.
The mission, he said, was to defend the coastline, deter would-be attackers, defend the nation's sovereignty and protect offshore oil installations.
"In the past we needed units small enough to be used in shallow waters but large enough to hold weapons to maintain the security of the UAE and its offshore installations.
"Now, the challenge is different. Other threats have to be considered from a variety of unconventional sources that challenge all navies today - like piracy and terrorist threats."
The UAE's naval might was of vital importance because of its strategic location near the Strait of Hormuz, Rear Admiral Al Musharakh said.
Concern about Iran's threats to shut the Strait and attack vessels that sail through it frequently heighten tensions in the region.
The concentration of shipping vessels and oil tankers also make it a prime target for Somali pirates, since about a fifth of the world's oil exports pass through the Strait and the Indian Ocean.
The UAE pledged its commitment to countering regional threats when it led the CTF 152, a joint international coalition against piracy in 2009.
"This was the first time the UAE ventured outside the Gulf to help in the fight against piracy, to protect merchant vessels and control security in the region," said Rear Admiral Al Musharakh.
Thirty-three countries now contribute naval forces to deter piracy in the Gulf of Aden and the eastern coast of Somalia. The international effort has sharply reduced the number of successful hijackings.
The number of piracy attacks fell from 176 last year to 35 until October this year, with nine ships and 154 seamen being held by pirates, according to International Maritime Bureau statistics.
The Navy operates corvette class warships, frigates, missile and patrol boats, as well as technologically advanced vessels such as the Stealth Falaj 2 and ships armed with anti-submarine and electronic warfare weapons, mostly built locally by Etihad Ship Building and the Italian company Fincantieri.
Being a developing nation has proved a challenge to manpower, according to Rear Admiral Ahmed Al Sabab Al Teneiji, the former chief of the Navy.
"Manpower in the UAE is constrained and not just in the Navy," he said. "There is recruitment, of course, but we have one source and only so many users. We are not a large country so it's important to think technology rather than attracting more people.
"We can overcome this problem using technology advances."
A former primary adviser to the chief of the naval forces, retired Rear Admiral Christian Giermann, said finding skilled personnel was the real trick.
"The competition with other sectors for human resources is tough. It is also making the Navy not as attractive as it could be to prospective recruits," he said, and personnel needed technical training and a dedicated naval school in the UAE.
Rear Admiral Al Musharakh said the navy might soon invest in additional fast offshore patrol vessels.
"The flexibility of such offshore vessels is a tempting option for the UAE in securing its territory," he said, but authorities were still studying the advantages of various new designs.
Rear Admiral Giermann encouraged the idea. "My concern is neglect, because the navy is too small. One must keep pace with development or one might fall back."