x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

The very model of industry

40 years of the UAE: The country¿s industries have come a long way since 1971 - but wait till you see them in 2030, writes Tom Arnold.

The annual Idex exhibition in the capital gives the UAE a chance to display its military capabilities. But defence is only one industry in which the country has excelled. Stephen Lock / The National
The annual Idex exhibition in the capital gives the UAE a chance to display its military capabilities. But defence is only one industry in which the country has excelled. Stephen Lock / The National

From rifles and Land Rovers to precision-guided missiles and fighter jets, the UAE's defence has changed markedly since 1971.

Today the country's military men and women are equipped with some of the most advanced hardware in the world.

"The UAE is upgrading its defence systems," says Gen Khalid Al Bu-Ainnain, the president of the Institute for Near East and Gulf Military Analysis. "The UAE and the Gulf are an increasingly important defence market."

The UAE was the fourth-biggest global spender on defence between 2005 and 2009, investing US$6.5 billion (Dh23.87bn) in armaments and military, the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute says.

It is in negotiations with international defence companies to buy fighter and training jets, as well as transport and early warning aircraft, attack helicopters and missile shields.

But the UAE is increasingly keen to move from a buyer to a supplier of military equipment.

The growing list of UAE companies engaged in military outsourcing, manufacturing and training is being driven by initiatives from state-backed players including Mubadala Development, Tawazun Holding and Emirates Advanced Investment.

The latest such venture is Bayanat, a project of Mubadala. Bayanat will manage the military's mapping and terrain data, and provide services to private industry.

Aviation, aerospace and defence are central to Abu Dhabi's 2030 development plan.

The first steps are being taken in Al Ain, where Mubadala and Abu Dhabi Airports Company are building an aerospace cluster; and at Zayed Military City, where Tawazun is developing its Tawazun Industrial Park focused on the arms industry.

Mubadala Aerospace announced in July it had reached a milestone with its manufacturing subsidiary, Strata of Al Ain. The aerospace company shipped its first consignment of advanced carbon-fibre composite aileron panels to Airbus for the A330 and A340 aircraft.

At this week's Dubai Airshow, Mubadala Aerospace signed a deal to supply aircraft parts to the US plane maker Boeing.

"They will be building major composite aerostructures for us and be one of the partners that we are looking for to build airplanes today and airplanes in the future," said Jim Albaugh, the president and chief executive of Boeing Commercial Airplanes.

The country is also making inroads into other industries. To reach its goal of becoming an industrial powerhouse, officials aim to capitalise on three major advantages: affordable labour, abundant energy supplies and proximity to Asia, Europe and Africa.

Arguably one of the most ambitious projects to date is the Khalifa Industrial Zone of Abu Dhabi (Kizad), which will aim to attract international industrial names to form partnerships with local ventures.

The first phase of Kizad is due to open by the end of next year. It is planned to cover 417 square kilometres - or two thirds the size of Singapore - in the coming years as part of Abu Dhabi's 2030 economic vision.

The zone is seeking to attract aluminium and steel producers, and companies from sectors including food and pharmaceuticals, construction and logistics, and paper and glass.

Dubai set the standard for creating an industrial heartland in 1985 when it established Jebel Ali Free Zone.

It has since become one of the fastest-growing free zones in the world, with a range of leading international industrial and logistical companies.

tarnold@thenational.ae