Flexible armoured vehicle fleets and regional coalition vital to combat Daesh threat in the Middle East
The Middle East has been a hotbed of conflict and violence for the last few years, largely due to the rise of Daesh in 2014 as the “death cult” wrested control of large regions in Iraq and Syria. The persistent threat from Daesh, which appears to be losing little ground in its assault on Iraq and Syria despite continued air strikes from the US and her partner nations and continues to destabilise the region and remains a volatile force. Although the Syrian army recently retook the ancient city of Palmyra, this is likely to be just one move in a game of back and forth land grabs between different factions in the region.
So far only regional militias, groups of rebels and what remains of national armed forces are fighting Daesh on the ground with whatever equipment they can get their hands on. The outlook for Iraq and Syria, and much of the Middle East and North Africa, under the plague of Daesh looks grave and shows little sign of improving any time soon. Frequent terrorist attacks across the region, including the mass killing of tourists on a beach in Sousse last year and dozens of other suicide bombings, continue to further exacerbate the conflict.
Attacks on European and US soil continue to draw international attention to the struggle in the Middle East. In the latest attacks, terrorists targeted the airport and metro in Brussels killing 32 and injuring hundreds. It proved a stark reminder – if a reminder was needed – that the Daesh threat is not simply the Middle East’s problem; it is a global threat that will require a robust multi-national coalition with unprecedented collaboration efforts. The Belgium attacks were followed by three suicide bombings at military checkpoints in Yemen and an attack at a football stadium in Iraq as Daesh seeks to ingrain terrorism as a Middle Eastern way of life.
In a first for a U.S. secretary of state since 2004, John Kerry recently declared that Daesh had committed crimes against humanity with the genocide of Christians, Yazidis and Shia Muslims. Pope Francis has already declared this the “third world war”, which is being waged piecemeal.
Former British prime minister Tony Blair called for western militaries to provide “on-the-ground” support to local allies. He wrote in The Sunday Times: “We can use local allies in the fight, but they need equipment and where they need active, on-the-ground, military support from us, we should give it. To have allowed ISIS [Daesh] to become the largest militia in Libya right on Europe's doorstep is extraordinary. It has to be crushed.”
Largely because of the sustained instability of the region, many Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries and others in the Middle East, including Turkey, are continuing to modernise their armoured vehicles and acquire new fleets. Never before has there been such a pressing need to bolster the region’s armoured mobility force; governments are taking heed and investing in these platforms and other kit to combat the thugs parading under the Daesh banner. Moreover, in the last few years alone the UAE and Qatar have introduced mandatory military service in response to the rise in regional conflict.
The armoured vehicle market in the Middle East
The Middle East is expected to boost vehicle procurement volumes significantly over the next ten years. Global demand is expected to remain steady, meaning the region – along with Asia-Pacific – is responsible for offsetting anticipated reductions in the US and Europe during this period. Confidence in the region’s armoured vehicle industry is also buoyant, with 91 percent of Middle East-based respondents to Defence IQ’s annual armoured vehicle survey stating they were either very confident or quite confident in the long-term prospects of the sector. Comparing like-for-like, those indicating a high level of confidence in the Middle East market (41 percent) increased 5 percent from 36 percent previously.
The Middle East accounts for over 10.5 percent of armoured vehicle fleets in the world, with active procurement programmes in Algeria, Bahrain, Iraq, Israel, Libya, Morocco, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia and the UAE. The region is forecast to continue increasing its spending on armoured vehicles until at least the end of the decade, and may need to accelerate plans further if the fight against Daesh intensifies.
Saudi Arabia is the epitome of that trend. The kingdom has the fourth largest military budget in the world and spent a staggering 10.4 percent of GDP on defence in 2014 according to SIPRI. Indeed, in 2015 Saudi Arabia increased its defence budget by 17 percent, which was the biggest rise in military expenditure of any nation in the world. Qatar is also significantly boosting its defence capabilities, most notably with the massive $23 billion deal it signed for attack helicopters, guided missiles, tankers and other weapons in 2014.
It is a struggle involving all countries in the region, regardless of size or military strength. At the International Armoured Vehicles conference in January in London, Brigadier General Juma’h T. AL Hrout, the Commanding General of Jordan’s 3rd Armoured Division, said that there are undeniable threats facing the region in the region and that Jordan was a critical front line state in the fight against Daesh.
To illustrate the depth of requirements in the region, just some of the key armoured vehicle programmes include the 1,050 COUGAR light armoured vehicles that have been authorised for Iraq, along with 16 M548A1 tracked logistic vehicles, 8 M113A2 armoured ambulances and 8 MMWWVs; the delivery of 600 NAMER APCs to Israel; 62 LEOPARD 2A7 MBTs ordered by Qatar; and 724 LAV II 8x8 being delivered to Saudi Arabia.
There is no better word than “complex” to sum up the world today and the challenges faced by militaries and governments, particularly in the Middle East. The future operating environment is unknown, highly unpredictable and constantly changing, therefore versatility of armoured vehicle fleets is critical.
At the Armoured Vehicles Middle East conference (31 May - 1 June, 2016), delegates will have a unique opportunity to meet with senior officers gathered from across the region, and in particular GCC nations, at a time when defence procurement is increasingly necessary as the region steps up the fight against Daesh.