Riad Kahwaji, CEO of the Institute for Near East and Gulf Military Analysis, believes UAE defence companies are seeking bigger markets as they gain international exposure. Image Credit: Supplied

Abu Dhabi: The future looks positive for the UAE military sector, but it still remains to be seen whether the country can become a military equipment manufacturer.

Gulf News set about finding answers for how is the UAE is likely to become a defence or military equipment manufacturer in the Middle East and help the Mena (Middle East and North Africa) countries meet their future defence needs.

Gulf News approached the Institute for Near East and Gulf Military Analysis (Inegma) which has organised the Dubai International Air Chiefs Conference.

During a quick interview, Inegma CEO Riad Kahwaji touched on the Idex 2011 exhibition and other aspects of the defence industry in the country. Excerpts:

Gulf News: Is the UAE investing in more military supplies than it did at Idex 2009?

Riad Kahwaji: This year we see rising institutions like Tawazun and Mubadala, who are seeking new opportunities, growth and maturity, as well as gaining better understanding and knowledge regarding the needs and interests of the UAE military and security.

UAE-based companies are becoming instrumental in establishing joint ventures with international companies. There are obviously more UAE-based companies in 2011 than in 2009, who are all organised this year, and know what they are doing.

What about internal competition among UAE-based military companies?

Each company masters what it sells in order to grow stronger and better. Once two different companies start to supply similar products, they will work together. We see in Idex 2011, where different UAE-based companies are signing deals with one another in order to complement each other's services, instead of competing with one another. An example of that is Tawazun.

We had 169 UAE-based companies in Idex, do you feel that means the UAE is ready to become the military manufacturing hub in the Mena region?

Yes sure, why not? The UAE has already been exporting military supplies to the rest of the Mena region for the past three years.

The shipbuilding industry for one, is huge. They've already supplied ships to Oman and Bahrain, and Caracal has already sold handguns to a number of Arab countries, including Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Jordan.

Tawazun has manufactured some spare parts for military aircraft and exported them to various parts of the Mena region; Nimr vehicles have also found buyers through the Bin Jabber Group.

It's obvious that the UAE takes the lead in the Gulf region. Look at the number of companies emerging by the year — and these companies are gaining international exposure and will soon master that knowhow. They are quite aggressive in their moves.

Your overall analysis on the UAE's security and defence industries now and into the future?

The UAE has so far proven to be the most stable country in the Arab world due to the community's good mandate and wise leadership. It's a liberal society which encourages free media, has good economic growth through proper schooling, health care and through providing the essential requirements for its citizens.

The UAE Government is paying attention to providing job opportunities for its young graduates.

If the UAE Armed Forces want to maintain an uninterrupted supply of military equipment, they need to keep updating their military products, which cost a lot of money. I do believe they have been on that track since the Iran-Iraq war.

They went on a higher scale after the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, which helped increase the threat perception in the GCC region in general. Threats from Iran have also helped heighten...spending in GCC countries.