United Arab Emirates - Country Commercial Guide
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The UAE is a major defense market that offers many opportunities for U.S. exporters. 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 #6 overall in military expenditures as a percentage of GDP (5.6%), according to the CIA Factbook. The UAE spent $19.8 billion on defense in 2020, and between 2010 and 2019, the UAE spent between 15-16% of their annual defense budget on procurement with foreign suppliers. (Defense News).

The UAE armed forces include approximately 65,000 active personnel: 45,000 Land Forces; 3,000 Navy; 5,000 Air Force; 12,000 Presidential Guard according to the CIA Factbook.

IDEX (International Defense Exhibition) and NAVDEX (Naval Defense Exhibition) are major defense shows hosted every two years in Abu Dhabi. In 2023, the two shows attracted 130,000 visitors and had 1,350 exhibitors from 65 countries with 41 international pavilions. At the show, the UAE Armed Forces signed a total of 86 deals worth $6.36 billion, compared to the total of $5.7 billion in 2021.

Key Stakeholders

The UAE, and especially 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 $5 billion in estimated revenue with approximately 12,000 employees working 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 issued two resolutions appointing the Tawazun Economic Council (Tawazun) to manage the Direct Commercial Sales procurements for the UAE Armed Forces and Abu Dhabi Police, and in 2023 issued a follow-on resolution for Tawazun Economic Council to manage UAE Armed Forces Foreign Military Sales (FMS) procurements. 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, artificial intelligence, 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).

Foreign Military Sales (FMS) and Direct Commercial Sales (DCS)

The UAE procures defense equipment through FMS, DCS, and hybrid routes. Many procurements contain both FMS and DCS components. The UAE currently has the 6th largest FMS portfolio in the world with more than 120 cases valued at over $29.5 billion. Security cooperation programs focus on integrated air and missile defense, air force modernization, rotary wing aviation 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 National Guard Command (NGC) 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

Please contact us for additional information regarding trade shows, U.S. pavilions, and export promotion services that may be available for U.S. companies.

​​​​​​​Dubai Airshow

Date: November 12 – 16, 2023

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


The Unmanned System Exhibition and Conference (UMEX)

Date: January 23 – 25, 2024

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


International Defense Exhibition and Conference (IDEX)

Date: February 17-21, 2025

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