United Arab Emirates - Country Commercial Guide

This is a best prospect sector industry for this country. Includes a market overview and trade data.

Last published date: 2022-07-26


There are many opportunities for U.S. exporters in the UAE defense sector. The UAE ranked #9 as a global defense importer from 2016–2020, and the United States was the largest supplier (64%), according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SPIRI).

The UAE ranks #8 overall in military expenditures, at 5.6% of GDP in 2020 (CIA Factbook). The UAE spent $19.8 billion on defense in 2020, and between 2010 and 2019, the UAE spent between 15-16% their annual defense budget on procurement with foreign suppliers (Defense News).

IDEX (International Defense Exhibition) and NAVDEX (Naval Defense Exhibition) are major defense shows hosted annually in Abu Dhabi. In 2021, the shows attracted 62,445 attendees and had 900 exhibitors from 59 countries with 35 international pavilions. At the show, the UAE Armed Forces signed a total of 86 deals worth of $5.7 billion, compared to the total of $5.46 billion in 2019. Out of the 86 deals that were signed, 53 deals worth $2.9 billion were with UAE firms and 33 deals worth $2.8 were with international companies (IDEX).

Key Stakeholders

Abu Dhabi is investing in the UAE’s defense sector to advance the country’s strategic interests and diversify the economy. There is significant public investment in the EDGE Group, formed in 2019 to consolidate over 25 entities including the Emirates Defense Industries Company (EDIC), Emirates Advanced Investments Group (EAIG), Tawazun Holding, and others. The EDGE Group has revenue of over $5 billion, and its 12,000 employees work across five verticals: platforms & systems, missiles & weapons, cyber defense, electronic warfare & intelligence, and mission support. The EDGE Group ranks among the top 25 military suppliers in the world (SPIRI).

In February 2021, His Highness Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, issued two resolutions appointing the Tawazun Economic Council (Tawazun) to manage the procurements for the UAE Armed Forces and Abu Dhabi Police Direct (that would fall under DCS - Direct Commercial Sales). The resolutions also mandated Tawazun to enforce the execution of the Tawazun Economic Program in the defense and security sectors. Tawazun is also in charge of managing procurement budgets (Tawazun, WAM).

Offset Program

The Tawazun Economic Program, which is overseen by the Tawazun, is the UAE’s offset program that seeks to capitalize on the country’s extensive defense procurements. The key objectives of the program include developing the defense sector, economic diversification, and high-value exports while expanding employment opportunities for UAE nationals. Tawazun issued new offset guidelines in 2019. While the focus will continue to be on development of the defense and security industry in the UAE, Tawazun will also consider projects in strategic industries including aerospace, infrastructure & transportation, communication technology, education technology, sustainability, environment & climate change, and food & water security.

A company incurs offset obligations if the value of the contract is more than $10 million or if the value is less than $10 million and the company or parent already has active offset obligations. The new policy guidelines also included changes to the project process (Tawazun).

U.S.-UAE Defense Cooperation

The United States and the UAE have robust military-to-military cooperation. The United States and the UAE enacted a Defense Cooperation Agreement in 2019, which updated a 1994 defense accord. The United States is a major supplier to the UAE.

The UAE procures defense equipment from the United States through foreign military sales  FMS), direct commercial sales (DCS), and hybrid routes. Many procurements contain both FMS and DCS components. The UAE has the 4th largest FMS portfolio in the world, with more than 100 cases valued at over $29 billion. Security cooperation programs focus on integrated air and missile defense, air force modernization, interoperability and access, counterterrorism, and maritime operations.

Leading Sub-Sectors

The UAE is a net importer of military equipment, and the country is open to foreign suppliers. However, the government is working to reduce its dependence on defense imports through the development of its own defense manufacturing capability. The UAE Air Force Air Defense (AFAD) traditionally receives the lion’s share of the UAE’s total defense procurement budget, followed by the Land Forces, Presidential Guard, and the Navy.

The UAE’s procurement priorities include missile defense; precision fires; intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR); command and control; expeditionary logistics; and maintenance, repair, and overhaul (MRO). The UAE GHQ Critical Infrastructure & Coastal Protection Authority (CICPA) is expanding rapidly and is tasked with protecting key infrastructure such as water desalination plants, oil and gas platforms, pipelines, and the Barakah nuclear power site.


Local Manufacturing

To support Abu Dhabi Vision 2030, the Abu Dhabi government seeks successful partnerships that could help develop local manufacturing capabilities and transfer knowledge. It is the UAE’s vision that such projects would supply local needs and export to global markets.

MRO and Training

Key opportunities exist in areas where the UAE Armed Forces outsources non-core military service activities such as maintenance, repair, overhaul, and military training to UAE and non-UAE-based private and government contractors.

Unmanned Systems

As a very rapidly growing industry globally, the UAE is looking for suppliers of cutting-edge unmanned systems to be used for surveillance application for its borders and critical infrastructure assets.

Trade Shows and Exhibitions

International Defense Exhibition and Conference (IDEX)

February 19-23, 2023

Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Center (ADNEC), Abu Dhabi, UAE


Dubai Airshow

November 12 – 16, 2023

Dubai World Central (DWC), Dubai Airshow Site, Dubai, UAE