x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

US is top weapons supplier to region

US firms dominated the market for defence and aerospace sales in the eight nations of the Gulf region between 2005 and last year, accounting for 54 per cent of all sales.

US firms dominated the market for defence and aerospace sales in the Gulf region between 2005 and last year, accounting for 54 per cent of all sales.

The biggest market share for the US was in Qatar, where it provided 98 per cent of all new weapons. In the UAE, which was the largest market for conventional arms over the time period, US companies won 60 per cent of contracts by value, according to a recent report from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), followed by France at 35 per cent, with other countries making up the rest.

In the UAE, the US has "cemented" its status as the principal supplier of advanced military platforms, said Dan Darling, a Middle East defence analyst with Forecast International.

"The US arms sales to these countries are meant to improve the defence capabilities of the recipient nation, reinforce the sense of US solidarity with its GCC partners and, finally, create a semblance of interoperability with American forces," he said. "This is noteworthy as France has traditionally been a supplier to the UAE, selling them everything from combat aircraft to helicopters to battle tanks."

Pieter Wezeman, a senior researcher of arms transfers at SIPRI, described as "somewhat mysterious and surprising" the UAE's purchase of 10 propeller-driven aircraft from Air Tractor of the US. The aircraft are crop-dusting and fire-fighting planes that have been adapted for military use with weapons, armour for the engines and cockpits, bulletproof windscreens, and self-sealing fuel tanks.

"The air tractors are a remarkable low-tech choice for the high-tech UAE, and therefore possibly acquired to hand on to a less developed ally," he said.

The top four nations supplying arms to the region after the US and France were Russia, the UK and China. Russian and Chinese exports went mainly to Iran, which received no major arms from the US or from most European states, said SIPRI.

However, Russian manufacturers also provided the UAE and Saudi Arabia with surface-to-air missiles, and helicopters to Iraq, while Ukraine supplied many GCC states with land vehicles.

"Russia and Ukraine have a speciality with land-based systems and air defence because of the history of the Soviet arms industry," said Dr Theodore Karasik, the director of research and development at the Institute for Near East and Gulf Military Analysis in Dubai.

igale@thenational.ae