UAE enters weapons deal with US
Last Updated: December 20. 2008 2:10PM UAE / December 20. 2008 10:10AM GMT
The Government has signed a US$3.3 billion (Dh12.11bn) contract for American-made Patriot missiles, sealing months of negotiations and deepening military ties between the US and the UAE.
The agreement, signed with the US defence contractor Raytheon, includes technology, training and supply of the medium-range missile system, which is part of a multi-tiered defensive shield the UAE Armed Forces is building to protect the nation from perceived threats in the region.
“For 25 years, we have provided advanced technology and innovation to the UAE,” said William Swanson, the chairman and chief executive of Raytheon, yesterday. “We are honoured that the UAE Government has entrusted us to deliver this unique capability to support the defence of its country.”
Analysts say the UAE faces no imminent threats, but add that the intensifying standoff between the UN and Iran over its nuclear programme has increased the overall risk of conflict in the region. Iran has ratcheted up its military capabilities by adding the Shahab-3, a medium-range offensive missile, to its arsenal.
“If you ask the Iranians, they have no intention to threaten the UAE and I believe the UAE appreciates that,” said Jim O’Halloran, the editor of Janes Land-Based Air Defense magazine. “But like everybody else in an area of conflict, you have to be prepared.”
The defensive shield for the UAE incorporates shorter-range missile systems from US contractors as well as a long-range missile capable of intercepting missiles in space.
The US was up against Russia in the latest deal, and at one time Russia was considered the front-runner. But in choosing the American design, the UAE has reinforced its strategic military links with the superpower, even as some members of the US Congress have voiced resistance to a separate deal, the so-called 123 agreement, that will see the US help the Emirates develop a peaceful, civilian atomic energy programme.
The legislators are seeking to delay that deal, claiming poor export controls in the UAE mean sensitive nuclear technology could end up in the hands of Iran, the nation’s biggest trading partner.
The UAE has long been a purchaser of the kind of advanced US military equipment reserved only for America’s closest allies. Earlier this year a private company, Emirates Advanced Investments, signed a deal with Raytheon to jointly fund and develop laser-guided missile technology in Abu Dhabi.
At the same time the Emirates is also strengthening ties with other western powers. A permanent French military outpost is due to be opened next spring in the capital.
The missile acquisition includes the upgraded GEM-T system, which brings advanced radar to the basic Patriot system that was first deployed during the First Gulf War when it was used to intercept Iraqi Scuds fired at Saudi Arabia and Israel.
The missile is designed to intercept incoming targets in their last stages of flight as far away as 40km.
Raytheon did not disclose the number of missiles it would sell to the UAE yesterday, but according to earlier statements it could be as high as 216.
The official order, registered at Redstone Arsenal in Alabama, the site of the US Army Aviation and Missile Command, was announced a year ago as part of a larger proposed purchase for up to $9bn worth of arms from Raytheon and other US contractors.
That included a deal for up to 288 Patriot Advanced Capability-3 missiles developed by Lockheed Martin, which could still go through in the next few months during the run-up to the International Defence Exhibition and Conference in Abu Dhabi in February.
The systems will gradually replace Raytheon’s Hawk defensive missiles that were first installed in the UAE in 1987.
Earlier this year Albert Del Checcolo, the director of Patriot missile programmes at Raytheon Integrated Defence Systems, said the Government was looking at several systems to protect its assets.
“They recognise that they are in a relatively dangerous area of the world and they do have some very high-value assets, basically oil and gas, which I think would become prime targets.”
The UAE is also considering a purchase worth as much as $7bn for the Terminal High Altitude Area Defence (THAAD) missile system under development by Lockheed Martin. The THAAD system carries no warhead, but relies on the kinetic energy of the impact to take out targets as high as 150km above the earth.
Representatives from the UAE were among those from a small group of nations invited last year to observe a test of the system, which is expected to be operational by 2010.
The UAE is also considering acquiring a shorter-range Surface-Launched Advanced Medium Range Air-to-Air Missile from Raytheon, which can be used to take out low-flying cruise missiles and unmanned aerial vehicles.
The pending purchases are part of a major upgrade of the UAE’s defensive capabilities begun more than four years ago, including six 72-metre long corvette warships being produced by Abu Dhabi Ship Building and a 2004 order for 80 F-16 jet fighters from Lockheed Martin.