Middle East

Meanwhile, the business of war continues
By David Isenberg

A few years ago, Deep Space Nine, a spin-off television series of Star Trek was popular. Among other things, it featured a race of beings called the Ferengi, who were ruthless profit-seekers. To that end they codified a list of principles known as the Rules of Acquisition. Rules 34 and 35 stated that war is good for business and that peace is good for business, respectively.

These rules come to mind now that the United States has launched its long-anticipated invasion of Iraq, at the same time that the biennial International Defense Exhibition (IDEX) 2003, the Middle East's largest military show, is taking place in Abu Dhabi, one of the seven emirates of the United Arab Emirates. Ironically, the five-day event was due to end on Thursday, the day that the US began its attack on Iraq.

Some 850 companies and around 45,000 visitors including heads of state, defense ministers, military delegates, diplomats and industry officials were present for the sixth holding of IDEX. While 37 countries have national pavilions, four countries - Malaysia, Romania, South Korea and Thailand - make their debut. This year's exhibition has seen an almost 35 percent increase in participation.

Despite the war not too far to the north, everyone seems focused on business as usual, putting aside the fact that war is the usual business of their trade. For example, last week the embassy in Abu Dhabi said that the US government would take part despite Washington advising US citizens not to travel to the United Arab Emirates. The US army is exhibiting army combat and support systems, while 28 American firms are busy showing off products ranging from guns to footwear and ready-to-eat meals at the US pavilion.

Likewise, the British, the only real partner to the US in the invasion of Iraq, are well represented. Adam Thomas, spokesman for the British government's Defense Export Services Organization, which is responsible for promoting and licensing the export of British military equipment, said that IDEX 2003 had so far been a "very successful" show.

Perhaps future profits merit a little risk. According to an interview with Associated Press, Paul Beaver, a spokesman for the Jane's Group of analysis and defense-oriented publications, said that Beaver commented that Middle East countries were expected to spend US$10 billion a year for the next five years on arms, and that outside the US only the Asia-Pacific region was expected to spend more, weighing in with US$76 billion worth of purchases over the same period by Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand and India.

French Defense Minister Michele Alliot-Marie even put in an appearance. That might be because one of the contracts expected to be announced at IDEX is a $776 million one for six Corvette warships to be built jointly by Abu Dhabi Shipbuilding and France's Constructions Mecaniques de Normandie.

Despite French deals, the prospects remain bright for many US firms, and may improve if the war goes well, as is expected. Northrop Grumman is hoping to clinch a contract for five of its E-2C Hawkeye airborne early warning aircraft.

According to Boeing, the United Arab Emirates is considering buying Boeing 767 tanker planes for midair refueling and is looking to upgrade its fleet of 30 Boeing Apache helicopters.

And Raytheon's Patriot missile air defense systems are in demand by countries in the region that feel vulnerable to attack by Iraqi missiles or unmanned aircraft carrying chemical or biological warheads. Aside from Israel, Patriots have been deployed or planned for deployment in Jordan, Turkey and Kuwait.

Eleven companies from the United Kingdom, Jordan, Italy, Singapore, Belarus, Russia, Czech, the Republic of Tatarstan and the United Arab Emirates showed off 17 vehicles in a mobile demonstration.

Another important part of IDEX is the 100,000 square-meter live firing range at Maqatra, an ideal venue for weapons from low caliber guns to missiles with a range of up to 25 kilometers. Twelve international companies from South Africa, Croatia, Russia, Finland, Austria, the US, Kazakhstan, Pakistan and India have displayed 20 defense systems, such as armored, tracked and wheeled vehicles and main battle tanks in the live firing demonstrations.

Naval systems are not neglected. Located at the naval berthing area at Abu Dhabi's Mina Zayed Port, the naval display this year include warships of various sizes, from Britain, France, Italy, the Netherlands and Pakistan, such as destroyers, aircraft carriers, frigates, command and control vessels, supply ships and submarines.

While Russia may have opposed the US in the UN Security Council, it has no problem competing with the Americans at this show. Some 50 major Russian enterprises are taking part and Russia has brought over 500 new kinds of arms and military equipment, and hopes to book further orders as Russian arms are already in the equipment of armies in the Middle East. For example, the army of the United Arab Emirates has been using Russian combat vehicles and antiaircraft missile complexes for almost 10 years.

One vehicle is the modernized T-72M1 tank, which shows its cross-country maneuverability at the exhibition's mobile demonstration area. Also being demonstrated is the upgraded version of the BMP-3 infantry-fighting vehicle.

Also on exhibit is the Iskander-E surface-to-surface missile system; 155 millimeter Krasnopol system of guided armament designed for artillery systems of non-Russian production; the Vikhr-M missile system, modifications of which can be mounted on helicopters, armored vehicles and warships; the Khrizantema-S antitank missile system possessing improved armor-piercing capacities; and new types of projectiles and warheads of projectiles for multiple launch rocket systems.

India, represented by a high-level delegation led by O Rajagopal, the Minister of State for Defense Production, Supplies and Parliamentary Affairs, is displaying locally-produced arms and warships. One of its destroyers, the INS-Mumbai, is present, as well as a domestically-manufactured 155 millimeter artillery field gun.

South Africa, which has a world-class reputation for its artillery systems, has a high profile. South African Defense Minister M G P Lekota said that a defense cooperation agreement between South Africa and the United Arab Emirates, signed in 1999, provided for several areas of cooperation, including defense industries. He said that the event "is the world debut of South Africa's latest artillery system". Some 20 South African companies are displaying their products and services.

And, in what has been a little-noted irony, Jugoimport SDPR, from Belgrade, is taking part. Jugoimport was in the news late last year as it was alleged that it had supplied munitions and weapons parts to Iraq. Jugoimport is exhibiting products of about 20 special-purpose enterprises from Serbia and Montenegro.

The European Aeronautic Defense and Space Company said that it will soon sign a contract worth nearly $200 million with the United Arab Emirates for four CASA C-295 maritime patrol and anti-submarine surveillance planes, according to spokesman Frederic Aragon.

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Mar 21, 2003

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