Liwa base extends defence reach
ABU DHABI // The UAE opened a new air base in Liwa yesterday, extending the reach of its air defence facilities to the oil-rich Western Region.
The Liwa Air Base was inaugurated by Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces.
"The efforts to develop and modernise the capabilities of our Armed Forces extend from a strategic vision that takes into account regional and international changes and the latest developments in the military and defence industries," Sheikh Mohammed said.
"The inauguration of the Liwa Air Base will contribute, without a doubt, to raising and strengthening the capabilities of our Air Force," he said, adding that the nation's leadership was determined to continue modernising all branches of the military.
Sheikh Mohammed said he was proud of the "performance and readiness" of the military.
Analysts underscored the wider effort to modernise the nation's armed forces, while stressing the location of the new base in the Western Region, which generates a third of Abu Dhabi's GDP through its vast oil wealth.
The UAE's Air Force is among the most advanced in the region. The country's fighter jet fleet is roughly split between US F-16s and French Mirage fighters.
The country is considering replacing its existing Mirage fleet with the more advanced Rafale fighter jets.
The most well-known air force bases in the UAE are Al Dhafra Air Base, which houses the Air Warfare Centre, one of the premier training facilities for fighter pilots in the region, and Al Bateen Air Base, which will host a missile defence simulation centre. Al Minhad Air Base in Dubai is used as a logistical supply point to Afghanistan by the British military.
The opening of the air base coincided with the celebration of the 37th anniversary of the unification of the Air Force and Air Defence. On the same day in 1974, the first air wing command was formed as part of the Abu Dhabi Defence Force.
The celebration encompassed a military parade that included female officers, a parachute jump at the air base and a flyover by UAE Air Force and Air Defence planes.
The military also held an aerobatic display by Al Fursan (the Knights), a group of select pilots flying Aermacchi MB-339 Italian military trainer aircraft.
Sheikh Mohammed honoured retired Air Force pilots and Captain Majed al Naqbi, a pilot who died when a Hawk trainer jet he was flying on a routine mission crashed in Ras al Khaimah in November.
It is the second opening of a major military installation in recent months after Sheikh Hamad bin Mohammed, the Ruler of Fujairah, inaugurated the Fujairah Naval Base in October. "It is part of an ongoing process, and the ability to have … more modern facilities," said Dr Theodore Karasik, the director of research and development at the Institute for Near East and Gulf Military Analysis.
"There are major geostrategic implications for the air base due to energy concerns, but also because of the ability to project power in any number of directions as future threats emerge," Dr Karasik said.
"I think the geographic location was picked for a number of different considerations," said Dr Mustafa Alani, the director of national security at the Gulf Research Centre in Dubai, "including strategic depth, proximity to the nation's primary resource - which is oil - and to meet the new developments of the expansion of the Armed Forces and the Air Force especially."
Dr Alani said the expansion of the Air Force addressed a range of modern concerns, including the fact that threats were mostly from rival air forces and missiles, as opposed to ground forces.
In addition, the UAE is small, and developing the air force allows it to extend its defence capabilities and project power outside its borders, he said, with comparatively lower manpower.