Russia Seeks Big Arms Sales to United Arab Emirates

At IDEX 2017, a military exhibition hosted in Abu Dhabi, Russian officials have been pushing a number of potential arms contracts with the United Arab Emirates.

Particularly over the last few years, Russia has landed a range of large military contracts in the Middle East and Africa regions, selling hardware from fighter jets to helicopters to tanks. Seeking to build on that success, Russian firms brought a significant amount of equipment to IDEX in Abu Dhabi.

Beyond its push for sales to the broader area, Russian firms are seeking contracts with the United Arab Emirates in a number of fields. The two sides signed an agreement covering cooperation in their defense industries.

On the second day of IDEX, the military exhibition’s spokesman, Rashid al-Shamsi, noted that the United Arab Emirates had signed agreements worth around 7 billion dirhams ($1.9 billion), with one of the largest contracts in that batch being a 2.6 billion dirham purchase of Russian anti-armor missiles.

According to al-Shamsi, Russian export agency Rosoboronexport will supply 5,000 anti-armor missiles of an unspecified type to the Emirati armed forces. Alongside the delivery, Russia will providing training and support services. Defense World reported that the system the United Arab Emirates purchased could be the Kornet-E.

In terms of other missile systems, Russian Industry and Trade Minister Denis Manturov said that Russia and the United Arab Emirates plan to discuss upgrading the Pantsir-S1 systems in Emirati service. The united Arab Emirates purchased 50 Pantsir-S1s in 2000.

“We’ll be holding talks on modernizing this type of combat hardware and I hope that colleagues will increase the volume of orders for new modifications. So far, we’re talking about modernization with an option of deliveries,” Manturov said, without specifying what sorts of upgrades were being discussed.

Russia is eyeing aircraft sales to the Gulf country as well. Rostec CEO Sergei Chemezov cited Emirati interest in the Su-35. Furthermore, in comments to Defense News, Chemezov said that the two countries would be jointly working on a fifth-generation light aircraft based on the MiG-29. Development could begin next year and last until 2025. 
Separately, Manturov noted, “We’ve signed an agreement on industrial cooperation in the field of military engineering. This will enable us to push ahead with the fifth-generation-jet project, in which the UAE will participate.” 
Reportedly the joint work is in an “initial phase” and it is unclear the extent of Emirati participation in the project. Russia has previously expressed interest in MiG Corporation developing a light fifth-generation aircraft, which will incorporate some of the features of the MiG 1.44.
Though the United Arab Emirates has purchased Russian equipment in the past, its aircraft fleet is largely Western-origin, making it less likely that the country will move forward with a significant purchase of Russian-origin fixed wing aircraft. The United Arab Emirates is seeking to replace its fleet of Dassault Mirage 2000-9s, but Defense News has reported that the country is doing so with an intention to purchase 60 Dassault Rafale fighter jets. 
For land systems, Russia is looking to sign a contract to modernize Emirati BMP-3s. The two sides are currently discussing such a deal. Russia is currently conducting upgrades on 135 Emirati BMP-3s under a $74 million contract reached in 2011.
Not every contract announced at military exhibitions ultimately comes to fruition, but the Russian sales push to the United Arab Emirates demonstrates that the country is an important market with growing potential.  

About Derek Bisaccio

Military markets analyst, covering Eurasia, Middle East, and Africa.

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