The presence of a sizable contingent of U.S. companies at DIMDEX 2022 provides proof, if any was needed, that the Middle East continues to be a priority market for defence firms in the country.
All the big companies, including Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Raytheon and GA-ASI are showcasing their range of capabilities at the show, eager to dispel any notions that they would start focusing on other markets in the backdrop of the United States scaling back its military presence in the Middle East to focus on its power competition with near peer adversaries China and Russia. As many as 15 U.S. exhibitors are showcasing a range of products and capabilities at the event, with 11 of them exhibiting as part of Kallman Worldwide’s USA Partnership Pavilion.
GA-ASI, which has seen interest in its MQ-9B SeaGuardian, the maritime variant of the SkyGuardian, from Qatar and a few other countries in the region, is displaying the actual remotely piloted aircraft at the event. Boeing is highlighting its range of products and technologies that are either active in the region or in demand, including the F-15, KC-46, T-7 advanced pilot training system, H-47 Chinook, Airborne Early Warning & Control, unmanned systems as well as its Air Power Teaming System.
“Boeing is committed to continuing its nearly two-decade partnership with Qatar. Dimdex provides an important opportunity for Boeing to demonstrate that focus by highlighting our latest technology, especially as it relates to defense and security,” says Kuljit Ghata-Aura, president of Boeing Middle East, Turkey and Africa.
Russian aggression against Ukraine, and the backlash that Moscow is receiving for it, gives the U.S. a prime opportunity to further consolidate its position as the preeminent arms supplier to the Middle East. Moscow has in recent years been open about its goal of increasing weapons sales to the region and has had considerable success as well; according to a Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) report last year, about a third of Russia’s recent arms exports were to Middle Eastern customers. According to analysts, countries in the region are likely to stay away from Russian arms, at least in the short term.
It is easy to see why the Middle East is such an attractive market for defense contractors. Currently, the region makes up 7.5% of the world’s total defense spending. With regional tensions high and the demand for advanced weapons systems and defense technologies on the rise in the Middle East, the number is likely to increase and touch at least 8% before the end of the decade, experts say.
According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), Middle Eastern arms imports, which is the main driver of the global arms market, grew by 25% in 2016-2020, compared to 2011-2015. Arms imports by the UAE declined by 37% in the period, but that was partially offset by Qatar’s imports going up by a whopping 361%. Saudi Arabia, the world’s largest arms importer, saw its weapons imports increase 61% while Egypt, which is modernizing its naval forces, witnessed a 136% increase in imports. Turkey, which is building up domestic production of weapons, saw a fall of 59% in imports.
According to SIPRI, countries in the Middle East accounted for nearly half of all U.S. arms exports between 2016 and 2020. During Biden’s first year at the helm, overall U.S. arms sales went down by 21% in the 2021 fiscal year compared to the previous year. Amidst the decline in weapons sales and the military pullback, the Biden administration has been eager to reiterate its commitment to its allies in the region.
Months after President Joe Biden announced that the U.S. would end support and “relevant arms sales” for Saudi Arabia’s offensive operations in Yemen, the U.S. State Department approved, in November last year, a US$650m sale of air-to-air missiles to Saudi Arabia. Two months earlier, the U.S. announced that it would send 350 contractor technicians and two government officials to handle the maintenance of the Saudi military’s military helicopter fleet, including Apache and Black Hawk attack helicopters, as well as the future fleet of Chinook transports.
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