Middle East Air Defence Procurement At a Glance

Contributor:  Laurent Rathborn
Posted:  03/16/2011  12:00:00 AM EDT
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Recent events in the Middle East have highlighted the ways in which air defence power may be used to suppress internal insurgency, with calls for a no-fly zone over Libya growing by the day. An arms embargo has been in place against the country since the 26th of February, when UN Resolution 1970 was enacted as an emergency response to the deliberate targeting of civilians by the current regime.
The business model for defence procurement
Current conflicts aside, however, the region (and particularly those nations rich in energy reserves) has traditionally been a rich source of arms contracts to the EU and the USA. Air power is a favoured spending item, as it generates the means to patrol long and, at times, lonely borders cost-effectively.

The last few years have seen a flurry of orders from Middle Eastern countries for support aircraft and helicopters. The UAE leads the way with recent orders for turboprop aircraft, with 25 units on order from a Swiss manufacturer and 40 Black Hawk helicopters on order from the USA.  A $7bn order is also expected soon for an integrated ABM and air defence system from the USA. 
This will consist of two separate systems, Patriot PAC-3 and THAAD (Terminal High Altitude Area Defence), with the latter feeding data to the former. Other deals in the package include a C4I system and missiles. Fourteen deals with the UAE alone are expected this year, with the total in the region expected to reach $70bn through joint purchases by the Gulf Co-operation Council, the umbrella body for defence in the region.

Overall spending levels are expected to increase concordant with fresh concerns over political instability in the region – this, in conjunction with rising oil prices and the continued spectre of a nuclear Iran. There are also signs that the region has started to accelerate its domestic arms production capabilities. The UAE, working with other countries on the GCC, has recently produced its first indigenous sidearm, which marks a departure from the standard practice of outsourcing to major arms producers. What is unknown at the moment is how the current wave of democratic protests in Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Jordan and Yemen (amongst others) might affect future arms purchases from abroad.
Finding a way forward for defence procurement
Given that the international community has acted swiftly and decisively in enacting an embargo against Libya via Resolution 1970, fears that future arms contracts will now come with more political strings attached - and possibly even demands for more openness in government - will be sitting heavily on the minds of some Middle Eastern leaders. This, of course, presupposes that the current wave of democratic sentiment dies down or is somehow accommodated.
Keynesian economics would normally dictate that the buyer has a moderately uninhibited choice of supplier. However, given the lack of internal production facilities for advanced technical systems in the region, this is not true of arms procurement at this level, where supplying governments must-needs collude to set conditions for sale.

If, by contrast, unrest increases, questions may crop up over the semantics of arms sales to elements of an unstable region. Current US State Department policy alignment in the direction of tacit support of these movements, for example, may lead to firmer guidelines regulating the relationship between the region and western defence manufacturers.
However, diplomatic requirements may also stimulate the development and sale of UAS platforms in the region, where maritime surveillance requirements, for example, continue to expand. Dedicated surveillance and reconnaissance platforms – such as UAVs dedicated to the task – would fill key requirements and reduce expenditures (in training pipelines, maintenance and procurement), while also avoiding controversial strike fighter acquisition projects. 
Laurent Rathborn Contributor:   Laurent Rathborn

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