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Armed forces and security of Emirates

The armed forces of the United Arab Emirates comprise 44,000 active personnel in the Army, 2,500 personnel and 46 ships in the Navy, 4,500 personnel and 386 aircraft in the Air Force, and 12,000 personnel in the Presidential Guard. In 2022, the country allocated US$20.4 billion for defense, which accounts for 4% of its GDP. The UAE is recognized as having the most capable military among the Gulf states.

Over the years, the UAE armed forces have experienced significant growth and now possess some of the most advanced weapon systems. These systems have been acquired from various western countries, primarily France, the US, and the UK. Many officers have received their training at prestigious military academies such as the United Kingdom’s Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst, the United States Military Academy at West Point, the Royal Military College, Duntroon in Australia, and St Cyr, the military academy of France. France and the United States have played crucial roles in defense cooperation and the provision of military equipment.

The UAE military has been involved in various deployments, including sending an infantry battalion to the United Nations UNOSOM II force in Somalia in 1993, deploying the 35th Mechanized Infantry Battalion to Kosovo, sending a regiment to Kuwait during the Iraq War, conducting demining operations in Lebanon, participating in Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan, and intervening in conflicts such as the American-led interventions in Libya and Syria, as well as the Saudi-led intervention in Yemen. Despite its relatively small active personnel, the UAE military has earned the nickname “Little Sparta” from United States Armed Forces Generals and former US Defense Secretary James Mattis due to its active and effective role.

In the Libyan Civil War, the UAE supported General Khalifa Haftar’s Libyan National Army in its conflict with the internationally recognized Government of National Accord (GNA). The UAE deployed military assets such as F-16 and Mirage 2000 fighter aircraft to enforce the no-fly-zone over Libya, sent ground troops to Afghanistan, deployed 30 F-16s and ground troops in Southern Yemen, and assisted the US in launching airstrikes against ISIL targets in Syria.

To reduce foreign dependence and promote national industrialization, the UAE has increased its production of military equipment. This includes the Abu Dhabi Shipbuilding company (ADSB), which manufactures ships and is a major contractor in the Baynunah Programme, aimed at developing corvettes for operation in the shallow waters of the Persian Gulf. The UAE also produces weapons, ammunition, military transport vehicles, and unmanned aerial vehicles through companies like Caracal International, Nimr LLC, and Emirates Defence Industries Company. The UAE Air Force operates the unique variant of the General Dynamics F-16 Fighting Falcon called “Desert Falcon,” developed specifically for the UAE. Additionally, the UAE Army operates a customized Leclerc tank, making it the only other operator aside from the French Army. The largest defense exhibition and conference in the Middle East, the International Defence Exhibition, is held biennially in Abu Dhabi.

Since 2014, the UAE has implemented mandatory military service for adult males, lasting 16 months, to expand its reserve force. The deadliest incident in the history of the UAE military occurred on September 4, 2015, when 52 soldiers were killed by a Tochka missile in the Marib area of central Yemen. The missile targeted a weapons cache, resulting in a large explosion.

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