At the Defence and Security Equipment International, the world’s largest arms fair, held last year in London, the organizers reported a record demand for space. A large chunk of that demand was from the United Arab Emirates, which reserved the corner with the most foot traffic. But its pavilion looked empty next to the life-size prototypes that surrounded it, and its delegate was too busy to talk to the press.
Still, the creators of the nearby surveillance equipment were keen to chat. They came from the United Kingdom, Sweden, and Australia, and they said they were pleased with how much room their new patrons gave them to explore. One of them had made a voice recognition system that cross-indexes international databases of police interrogations. Another displayed an internet-of-things radar system mounted on a police car that takes orders from intelligence officers.
The UAE has not released data on its defense budget since 2014, but back then it already outspent the United States in per capita terms, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. Most of that money goes to buying the flashiest items on the market. But if a sale is not approved, the UAE is not at much of a loss; a growing portion of its budget is going toward developing its own technologies.
The debate over whether the United States will sell the Gulf country the F-35 fighter jet, then, misses the larger picture. If the UAE can’t get the jet, it might negotiate to join the F-16 supply chain and gain skills and contacts to help it build other sophisticated systems, according to Shana Marshall, an assistant research professor at George Washington University.
Over the past decade, the small Gulf state has built a reputation for splurging its petrodollars on soccer teams, museums, dairy and produce farms, real estate, tech start-ups, and banks—whether to claim a stake in rising markets, diversify its economy, or buy political clout. The logic is similar with defense production, but more than simply adding a logo and funneling proceeds, it is moving much of the creation process onshore. (end of excerpt)
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