x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

UAE scales back missiles plan

The Emirates is still expected to become the first international customer of the THAAD missile defence shield.

The UAE has scaled back its plans to acquire a missile defence system from the US contractors Lockheed Martin and Raytheon, according to the US Missile Defence Agency (MDA).

But the Emirates appears to be still on track to become the first international customer of the Thaad interceptor rocket, as it builds up its military defence capabilities.

The UAE is now requesting up to 96 of the defensive missiles from Lockheed Martin, rather than the 144 first announced three years ago, according to documents from the US agency obtained by Bloomberg News.

The planned sale was valued at US$7 billion (Dh25.71bn) in 2008. "This proposed sale will contribute to the foreign policy and national security of the United States by helping to improve the security of a friendly country that has been and continues to be an important force for political stability and economic progress in the Middle East," the US government said at the time.

The UAE has also reduced its plans to purchase Raytheon tracking radar that supports the missile batteries, from four sets to two, the MDA said.

Officials from Lockheed Martin declined to comment on the MDA findings. But Robert Stevens, the chief executive of Lockheed Martin, said recently discussions over the proposed sale were "ongoing and constructive" and the Emirates "very much reinforced the desire to acquire" the system.

"The level of interest is high and the system has demonstrated its efficacy," he said. "The timing will probably unfold in two pieces: an advanced procurement or long-lead procurement phase, maybe at the end of this year; and maybe by about the middle of next year, the balance of that order."

Thaad missiles carry no warhead but instead rely on the kinetic energy of impact to take out targets at altitudes of up to 150km. The system would create another layer of protection for the Emirates beyond its plans to develop a Patriot-based missile shield. Raytheon plans to deliver the first Patriot test missiles to the UAE this summer, and the first operational units next summer, the company has said.

Gulf states are huge customers of US aerospace technology and purchased $88bn worth of arms between 1988 and 2007. In 2009, the UAE became the fourth-largest arms importer in the world, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.

These purchases are acting as important lifelines to the US defence industry, helping to maintain manufacturing jobs as US domestic defence budgets are tightened.

igale@thenational.ae