Local arms manufacturing in the Middle East and North Africa region is set to grow. Robert Bailey outlines some of the projects and collaborations that are underway
Middle Eastern and North African (MENA) defence industries are becoming more self reliant as they shift from direct equipment purchases to local production. Where technology transfer has for more than two decades been an established part of headline-catching, multi billion dollar offset programmes, the focus now, for even the smaller countries, is to require technology transfer as a first step to developing their own armaments manufacturing capability.
Nevertheless, the MENA region is still a hugely lucrative market for Western arms manufacturers. Its spending on military equipment continues to be the highest of any region outside North America and Europe. Saudi Arabia’s defence expenditure alone totalled more than $38 billion in 2008, ranking ninth in the world.
After maintaining a low profile for many decades, the UAE has emerged as one of the world’s largest purchasers of advanced military equipment. Scarcely had the delivery of 60 of the latest Lockheed F-16 fighter aircraft been completed – to add to the 50 Mirage 2000 fighters acquired in 2008 – than the UAE authorities availed themselves of the Abu Dhabi defence exhibition, which was staged in early 2009, to order four giant Lockheed Martin C-17 and the smaller C-30 military transport aircraft, and jet fighter trainer aircraft from Italy’s Alenia.
The federation is also negotiating a $9 billion package for Lockheed’s terminal high-altitude air-defence system and Patriot air-defence missile systems. Three more Airbus A330 tanker aircraft are also slated to add to three already purchased and due for delivery in 2011.
Another relatively new armaments market is Algeria, which is pursuing a major modernisation programme. In the past two years, the growth in annual defence spending has more than trebled to 33 per cent. Potential suppliers have been courting Algeria’s top brass since an arms embargo was lifted in 2005. These include the UK, whose defence minister visited Algiers in October for talks with President Bouteflika.
However, it was a sign of the times that the Anglo-Italian group AgustaWestland discovered, when negotiating the sale of an extra 100 helicopters to supplement a completed $600 million order, that the deal could well depend on agreeing to a large proportion of them being assembled locally.
Libya is another country that has emerged from pariah status to be wooed assiduously by arms suppliers. Since the lifting of the international arms embargo, several countries – notably the UK, France and Russia – have beaten a path to Tripoli to offer equipment and military training.
France is reportedly negotiating a $6.4 billion arms package, including the supply of Rafale fighter jets, which could hinge on offering some local production and assembly. However, the Libyans may be more inclined to stick with their traditional Russian suppliers. A number of contracts involving the supply of Sukhoi-30 and MiG 29 fighter aircraft, as well as helicopters and the modernisation of Russian-supplied tanks, were confirmed in October.
Russia’s state armaments marketing organisation, Rosoboronexport Russia, is active in other Arab markets. It has offered to supply Lebanon with MiG 29 fighters to beef up its depleted air force, as well as air-defence missile systems and T90 main battle tanks. It is also working on $2 billion worth of contracts with Saudi Arabia for the sale of 150 helicopters, T90 main battle tanks and BMP infantry-fighting vehicles.
Retraining Iraq’s Russian-equipped army has been a long and complicated process. However, with more than $8 billion of orders for US helicopters, tanks and armoured combat vehicles in hand, Iraq is well on the way to rebuilding its equipment inventory with American arms. Most of this materiel was financed with aid, but as oil revenues improve, Iraq could become a leading defence market in its own right.
Another important defence provision that relates particularly to Iraq is security services. G4S, formerly Group Four Securicor, has 40,000 employees working in the Middle East, a large proportion of them in Iraq where it has nine branches. The British security firm, Aegis, which processes and monitors all private security operations in Iraq, also has a large presence with 15 branches.
Although the US Fifth Fleet is headquartered in Bahrain, and many other navies regularly visit Gulf waters, the Gulf Cooperation Council is assuming much more responsibility for its own security; naval and air defences are being reinforced. The Sultanate of Oman has taken delivery of the first of three state-of-the-art 2,700-tonne Corvettes from the UK’s Vosper Thorneycroft group, as part of a $715 million deal. Meanwhile, Bahrain’s navy is reportedly seeking to buy three new frigates.
However, MENA countries are now looking to develop their own capabilities. Arms production was pioneered by Egypt, which built its industry on the back of the Arab Organisation for Industrialisation, an abortive attempt in the 1980s to create a pan-Arab military industrial complex. Egypt has relied heavily on US military assistance and now builds US-designed tanks and other military platforms.
Offset, where typically the supplier invests 35 per cent of the value of a defence project in a local industrial undertaking, was pioneered by Saudi Arabia with the launch, in 1984, of Boeing’s Peace Shield programme, followed by British Aerospace’s Yamamah programme. Now it is widely used as a stepping-stone to local production.
For example, the UAE’s $817 million Baymunah naval programme involves the design, construction and outfitting of six Corvettes. The first ship was built by Constructions Mecaniques de Normandie in France; the remainder will be built by Abu Dhabi Shipbuilding (ADSB), which is 40 per cent owned by the Abu Dhabi government’s investment agency Mubadala. ADSB is also providing the UAE navy with 12 missile-armed fast-attack craft and four maritime patrol aircraft. The shipyard also has an order for a troop-carrying ship from Oman.
Mubadala has also established a helicopter pilot training school in Al Ain and has strengthened the Federation’s maintenance, repair and overhaul facilities by acquiring the Gulf Aircraft Maintenance Company, whose core business is servicing a variety of military aircraft, including the UAE’s F-16s and Mirage 2000-9s, as well as military and civilian makes of helicopter. It is sinking $500 million into revamping and broadening the scope of the company, which has now become Abu Dhabi Aircraft Technologies.
It has invested in Al Yah Satellite Communications Company, which provides the federation’s armed forces with a secure satellite communications system. The company’s first-launch satellite is currently being built by Europe’s EADS Astrium and Thales Alenia Space. Mubadala has also joined with the US company EDS Defence and Security, to create the Injazat Data Systems IT, an outsourcing company, to provide data security systems for the armed services.
Independent of Mubadala, Tawazum Holdings, an offshoot of Abu Dhabi’s Offset Programme Bureau, owns Caracal International, a company that specialises in manufacturing and distributing small arms. Tawazum has also joined forces with Al Jaber Group and Germany’s Rheinmetall Munitions Systems to build a munitions factory.
While a frontrunner in the development of a viable indigenous defence industry, the UAE faces strong regional competition. Jordan, similar to Egypt, is well on the way to building a national defence industry. A recent contract involved calls for 100 Turkish-designed armoured vehicles to be assembled locally. The King Abdullah 11 Design and Development Bureau is also carrying out additional upgrading work, in Amman, on US-made main battle tanks.
However, Saudi Arabia has embarked on the region’s technically most ambitious programme: a plan to develop a fully-fledged aeronautics industry on the back of local assembly of the Eurofighter Typhoon. The first 24 of a 72-plane, $32.9 billion order are being delivered direct from the UK; the first two aircraft arrived in Taif last July. The remaining 48 are to be assembled by Alsalam Aircraft Company, in new factories being constructed in Riyadh. Another Saudi company, Advanced Electronics, is in talks with BAE Systems, the Eurofighter Typhoon’s prime manufacturer, to produce components for the fighters. Global Arab Network
Robert Bailey is Global Arab Network consulting editor and writer specialising in the Middle East. This article is published in partnership with the Middle East Association.