By TBY | UAE | Aug 20, 2014
Abu Dhabi is an emerging hub for the development and production of advanced defense technology.
This is not purely a case of the UAE purchasing defense products and systems from foreign companies. The government’s policy is to establish the Emirate of Abu Dhabi as a regional defense hub producing its own defense technology for both domestic consumption and export. This is in line with the national vision of diversification away from a dependence on hydrocarbon revenues toward developing other promising sectors. Over the past decade this strategy has succeeded, and today Abu Dhabi is fast becoming one of the few places in the MENA region to develop and manufacture sophisticated defense systems.
For the most part, this has been done through joint ventures between local economic heavyweights Mubadala and Tawazun, together with leading international companies. Both have become flagship names in the sector, producing an array of products through their subsidiaries including, but not limited to, small arms, vehicles, ships, munitions, guided missiles, aircraft structures, and even unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs).
TECHNOLOGY, PRODUCTS, & SERVICES
On the ground in the Emirate of Abu Dhabi, local industry looks impressive. In the industrial area of Musaffah on the outskirts of Abu Dhabi city itself, the engineers and tradesmen of Abu Dhabi Ship Builders (ADSB) manufacture sophisticated military vessels, including Baynunah Class Corvettes. These indigenously designed vessels will be used by the UAE navy to patrol the Gulf. Additionally, ADSB provides servicing and upgrades for other vessels.
Away from the coast and further inland, in Al Ain, the Nibras Al Ain Aerospace Park has come into its own as an impressive aviation cluster. There, local company Strata manufactures composites for use in aircraft structures, and is now part of the international supply chain for Boeing. Its neighbor, the Advanced Military Maintenance Repair Overhaul Centre (AMMROC) announced $544.5 million worth of deals to service military aircraft in February 2013. As is the case for ADSB and Strata, AMMROC is a Mubadala initiative.
In terms of ground vehicles, Nimr Automotive, a Tawazun subsidiary, will soon supply Nimr 6×6 and 4×4 vehicles to the UAE military. This complements its provision of small arms manufactured by sister company, Caracal. Another Tawazun subsidiary, Abu Dhabi Autonomous Systems Investments (ADASI) is working to develop UAE-made unmanned reconnaissance aircraft.
The business of autonomous systems has been remarkably successful in the UAE. Abu Dhabi-based and privately-owned ADCOM Systems already builds and exports an array of unmanned aircraft from its YABHON product line.
As the sector expands, unique opportunities for employment are emerging. In addition to technical roles, the defense boom in Abu Dhabi has created a number of corporate, administrative, and support positions. In line with the national vision to move the economy away from a dependence on hydrocarbons, this offers an array of options for UAE nationals seeking to become involved in this relatively new, but quickly growing industry. In the case of Strata in Al Ain, over 160 UAE nationals are employed, accounting for 30% of the total workforce. Interestingly enough, 90% of the production team is female. It is important to note that these are among the first ever Emirati women to become aviation technicians. In the Tawazun Industrial Park, this recruitment of female UAE nationals into technical positions has also been successful through Project Daylight.
Both Tawazun and Mubadala are actively involved in creating knowledge transfer through meaningful exchanges and international training efforts. Tawazun Training Centre sends its young engineers to Germany for up to two-and-a-half years through its Tawazun Manufacturing Technology Program. Mubadala subsidiaries actively leverage their partnerships with international companies such as Lockheed Martin and Boeing to gain international experience for UAE nationals through internships and exchanges.
IDEX & NAVDEX
To showcase this rapid development and cultivate international cooperation, Abu Dhabi hosts the International Defense Exhibition and Conference (IDEX). This has become one of the world’s premier defense exhibitions, and is run in parallel to the Naval Defense Exhibition (NAVDEX). The facilities available at Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Centre (ADNEC) allow visitors to access both the land-based systems on show as well as moored military vessels. The event has grown from strength to strength in recent years. It attracted approximately 1,060 exhibiting companies from 52 countries in 2011, and more than 60,000 visitors. In 2013, this number increased to 80,000 and approximately 1,111 companies from 59 countries took part in the event. Prior to the event, the Gulf Defense Conference (GDC) had hosted some 77 defense ministers and more than 70 senior military officers from over 80 countries. In total, around $4.1 billion worth of commercial deals were closed during IDEX 2013.