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RIYADH: In a region where military threats abound, GCC countries are moving towards boosting their military research and development, also known as R&D, capabilities as part of their strategy to increase domestic manufacturing capacity of weapons and advanced military systems.

Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates are leading the charge, with a massive allocation of funds, much of which will be spent locally.

The Kingdom is investing heavily in its local defense industries as part of broader diversification plans outlined in Vision 2030. Last year, a senior Saudi military official reiterated that the Kingdom plans to spend more than $20 billion on its military industry, with more than half of it going into R&D over the next decade.

Ahmed bin Abdulaziz Al-Ohali, governor of the Kingdom’s General Authority for Military Industries, known as GAMI, said R&D spending would rise from 0.2% to about 4% of arms spending in the Kingdom. here 2030.

Also in the United Arab Emirates, the Ministry of Defense is streamlining its national military capabilities. Last year, it signed an agreement with Tawazun, delegating the management of defense and security R&D planning and execution.

The Defense and Security Procurement Authority for the UAE Armed Forces and Abu Dhabi Police, Tawazun, will foster economic growth and development of the UAE defense and security industry .

“A key dynamic that shapes the current defense market in the GCC is that it is robust across multiple types of weapons and enabling systems, including aircraft, drones, maritime and littoral systems, and counter defense. -aircraft and anti-munitions,” Nick said. Heras, deputy director, Human Security Unit, at Newsline Institute, in an interview with Arab News.

He added that some of the other emerging technologies include intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance systems, artificial intelligence, munitions, computer systems and information warfare tools. Led by the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, countries in the region are consolidating their military industry and R&D platforms by late launching various measures.

In 2019, for example, Abu Dhabi brought several state-owned companies under one organization to restructure its defense industry. About 25 companies with a combined annual revenue of $5 billion have been brought together in a new conglomerate, called EDGE, which will position the country as a global player.

Some of the businesses placed under EDGE include Abu Dhabi Shipbuilding and Advanced Military Maintenance Repair and Overhaul Center. The latter is a joint venture with Lockheed Martin Corporation and Sikorsky, a subsidiary of Lockheed Martin.

A similar venture was created in the United Arab Emirates in 2014 when Mubadala and Tawazun launched Emirates Defense Industries Company, known as EDIC, which consolidated a dozen state-owned companies under one organization. EDIC is now part of EDGE.

“EDGE is currently the most advanced conglomerate in the region in the field of defense industry, and it acts as a model for the Saudis with SAMI and the Qataris with Barzan Holdings”, said Jean Loup Semaan, researcher senior. at the Middle East Institute of the National University of Singapore, in an interview with Arab News.

Some of the major defense companies in the UAE nevertheless operate independently of EDGE. These include Aquila Aerospace, which modifies planes for espionage, and Calidus, a producer of light attack aircraft, according to a report by the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS).

In Arabia too, several entities were created to manage and oversee the nascent military industry.

In 2017, the Kingdom established GAMI, which oversees military research and development and procurement. It is also a regulator and licensor for the military industry in Saudi Arabia.

In the same year, the Saudi Public Investment Fund, commonly known as PIF, launched the National Saudi Military Industries, or SAMI, as part of the Kingdom’s Vision 2030.

“The GCC market is still developing and there is plenty of room for growth. It is also a competitive market with a wide range of countries, including the three major powers – China, Russia and the United States, and European states such as Britain, France, Germany, Italy and Spain, and rising powers such as Turkey and even India,” Heras said.

Through its partnership with the UAE and Bahrain, Israel is also beginning to capture market share, potentially including in R&D in partnership with the UAE, he added.

Whether it is EDGE or SAMI, all of these regional projects have several objectives, including the creation of talent in the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, respectively.

EDGE aims to attract “elite industry experts and talent from around the world, to assist on a wide range of modern product developments,” the company reportedly said in a press release at the launch.

EDGE, which has five main specialties – Platforms and Systems, Missiles and Weapons, Cyber ​​Defense, Electronic Warfare and Intelligence, and Mission Support, employs more than 12,000 people.

While Saudi Arabia is expected to create about 100,000 jobs for people in the military sector under Vision 2030.

“There is definitely a strategy in both the UAE and Saudi Arabia to foster their local defense industry in coordination with the education system,” Samaan said, citing the example of Mohammed bin Zayed University for the artificial intelligence.

But he stressed that R&D is a long process, “so it’s too early to see a significant contribution from local universities to the development of military technologies.”

In his previous interview with Arab News, Al-Ohali highlighted the importance of forming a healthy ecosystem comprising academic institutions, research centers, universities, public and private institutions to ensure the sustainability of the military industry. local.

He added that the vision was to partner with academic institutions to fill the local skills gap in strategic areas, such as engineering and skilled labour.

Yet one of the challenges that GCC countries may face when building their own R&D sector is that military research is often a matter of national security. This makes other international actors often hesitant to share their military innovations.

“R&D sharing is one of the hot topics in the global arms trade. Companies have to navigate complex export control laws, and especially for classified-type systems, it can be a cumbersome process,” Heras said.

He explained that sharing research and development is often a national security decision that is weighed against potential business opportunities.

“China and some countries like Turkey have an advantage in this regard because the military technology they sell is often tied to the commercial benefit of the state or companies close to the ruling regime elites, which balances the concerns national security they might have,” Heras concluded.