The 8th International Defence Exhibition and Conference (IDEX 2007), the Middle East's leading defence industry event, got underway at the newly opened Abu Dhabi National Exhibitions Centre.
This year's conference takes place as deep fears about the situation in the Middle East and the growing tension between the US and Iran are driving the wealthy oil states of the Gulf to go on shopping sprees for helicopters, ships and tanks, officials say.
"The shopping lists are directly correlated to the threat perception," said military analyst Mustafa Alani of the Dubai-based Gulf Research Centre (GRC). "For the past 15 years, these countries didn't invest a lot in rearming."
The biggest fear in the region is that Iraq will collapse into civil war and its violence will spill into nearby Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates, Alani said.
Alani said that in 2006, the Gulf states concluded $35bn of arms deals with $13bn being spent with British companies, $11bn with US firms and $10bn with French suppliers. A report by the GRC last month also found that between 2000 and 2005, the six GCC countries spent $233bn on defence, which constituted 70% of military spending in the Arab world and 4% of global spending. According to the CIA World Factbook, the UAE's military spending constitutes 3.1% of its GDP.
The US-based Foreign Policy Association reports that the UAE alone is spending $6bn on missile defence batteries, aircraft, and airborne early warning systems. It is also developing a rapid reaction force. The UAE recently concluded a deal with Boeing in which they will acquire 30 Apache Longbow helicopters.
Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, crown prince of Abu Dhabi and deputy supreme commander of the UAE Armed Forces, said, "The UAE military strategy and its plan to build an integrated and solid defence system reflect our keenness to safeguard our national interests and sovereignty, as well as possess, build and enhance a deterrent force."
IDEX comes at a time when global spending on defence continues to rise. According to Major General Obaid al-Ketbi, chief of logistics for the UAE Armed Forces and chairman of the military committee for IDEX 2007, speaking at a briefing for the event in December, world defence spending topped the $1.1trn mark in 2005. Indeed, Turkey, the US, China, South Korea and Italy have all increased their exhibit space at IDEX 2007 significantly.
The bi-annual exhibition and conference is the biggest defence show of its kind in the Middle East with 862 exhibitors from 50 countries participating. IDEX focuses on the areas of army and land forces, navy and coastal defence forces, rotary wing aircraft, unmanned aerial vehicles and ground-to-air defence systems. First held in 1993, the event has become an integral part of the defence industry calendar. IDEX 2005 witnessed $2bn worth of commercial deals signed during the event, surpassing all commercial expectations.
The new exhibition centre where the event is being held is hoped to become one of the leading venues for exhibitions and conferences in the Middle East. Friedrec Theux, president of Reed Exhibitions Middle East, the event's organisers, said, "With the addition of purpose-built facilities as well as the growing reputation of Abu Dhabi as an investment and tourist destination, we think IDEX will achieve major success as the pre-eminent defence exhibition outside the Western world." Organisers have also said that exhibit demand is up 30% from previous records for the event.
This year's event will feature a number of live naval demonstrations at Mina Zayed and the marina next to the exhibition centre as well as a live firing demonstration at the nearby 25km missile range. Pakistan, the United States, Australia, France, Germany and Italy are all sending vessels to Abu Dhabi for the naval display.