Strategic ties with UAE likely to result in billion-pound defence contracts for UK

UK defence companies would benefit from a more energetic UK-UAE bilateral relationship, especially since the UAE is keen to replace its ageing Mirage fighter jets with the BAE Systems Typhoon in a deal worth $10 billion (c. £8bn), according to a new paper from the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI).

UAE Abu DhabiAs the UK appears to strategically orientate its defence and security posture towards the Gulf region from 2014, with the Minhad airbase in Dubai undoubtedly forming a major focal point of the future British presence, new research suggests that the UAE government is also committed to reinvigorating its relationship with the British; possibly at the expense of other potential strategic alliances.

Defence Industry and the Reinvigorated UK-UAE Security Relationship, addresses the ambitions and perceived strategic and operational needs of the UAE in the context of its bilateral relationship with the UK. Exploring notions of defence industries and the military component, the paper considers the UAE's visions for its economic and defence and security, and how these shape and refine its policy actions and responses.

'It seems clear that something significant is unfolding in the defence and security relationship between the UK and the UAE. As yet, it is not fully understood or indeed completely open to public scrutiny. The British military is developing a smart presence in the region post-Afghanistan and the UAE is seeking to enhance and refresh a historical relationship as it works to contain Iran and address a myriad of geopolitical hazards and risks. So far, so conventional; but there is a defence-industrial component to this refreshed defence and security relationship that is intriguing and hints at the centrality of defence-industrial considerations in twenty-first century notions of security and international diplomacy' the report concludes.

'Beyond this 'smart' basing, however, lies the potential for increased mutual defence and security through the development of the defence-industrial relationship between the UAE and the UK; this may prove to be more significant, enduring and strategic than plans for highly visible military co-operation or the provision of host-nation facilities.'

'Both sides are also conscious of commercial opportunities for sales from the UK to the Middle East and, potentially, from the UAE to Europe... It should not be underestimated just how important this commercial driver is to those officials and industrialists championing greater strategic ties between the two states.'

Al Nahyan and Cameron UAE UKThe study highlights that the UAE government has set in place a programme of military modernisation to improve the country's defence capabilities which would be a significant prize for UK defence companies. Leveraging their substantial financial resources, the UAE is investing heavily in anti-missile systems, border-security systems and importantly fighter-jet capabilities.

'A possible deal to take the Mirage out of service, and replace it with the Typhoon (accompanied by a long-term support, upgrade and training package), coupled to the research and development of remotely piloted air system capabilities - itself tied to an emerging UK military footprint in the region - seems the stuff of a remarkable and pivotal UK-UAE treaty, and is certainly more than business as usual.'

'The country [UAE] is the fourth-largest defence importer globally and is expected to spend about $52.3 billion on defence and security equipment in the next four years. In comparison, the 2012 spending for defence was about $9.3 billion. This market could be a significant prize for a Western state face with stagnating (or falling) national defence budgets and shrinking demand for home orders for its indigenous defence industries. It hints at, in part, the British government's motivation for a refreshed relationship with its peers in Abu Dhabi.

'Today, the most important contractual discussion in the UAE defence area concerns the supply of fighter jets. Whilst the competition for this $10 billion award is still notionally alive, the contract award is a real and present test of the strategic relationship between the UK and the UAE. It represents a visual signpost of the significance of the partnership to both governments; but, potentially, at the expense of the French.'

'If the Emiratis order Typhoon as part of a UK-UAE 2013 defence concordat, it is reasonable to assume that it will come with a maintenance and supportability package that could, in part, be pursued on the ground in the UAE.'

To read the paper Defence Industry and the Reinvigorated UK-UAE Security Relationship in full please click here.


1.        Any enquiries please contact: Saqeb Mueen /

2.        Dr John Louth, senior research fellow and director of Defence, Industries and Society at RUS, is the lead author. Dr Louth can be contacted on +44(0)7876 743 579.

3.        RUSI is an independent think-tank for defence and security. RUSI is a unique institution; founded in 1831 by the Duke of Wellington, it embodies nearly two centuries of forward thinking, free discussion and careful reflection on defence and security matters.

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