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Emirati Forces / Union Defence Force

Although small in number, the U.A.E. armed forces are equipped with some of the most modern weapon systems, purchased from a variety of countries. In 2010 and 2011, the U.A.E. was one of the largest foreign buyers of U.S. defense equipment with a portfolio value of $14B. The leadership and senior officials of the U.A.E.’s Armed Forces are mostly U.A.E. nationals. However, lower-level troops mostly hail from surrounding Arab nations and Pakistan. The U.A.E. is working to reduce the number of foreign nationals in its ranks, in accordance with the national Emiratisation initiative. The military has been reducing the number of foreign nationals in its ranks, and its officer corps is composed almost entirely of U.A.E. nationals.

The numerous treaties that Britain concluded with the several gulf amirates in the nineteenth century provided, inter alia, that the British were responsible for foreign relations and protection from attack by sea. Until the early 1950s, the principal military presence in the Trucial Coast states (sometimes referred to as Trucial Oman) consisted of British-led Arab security forces and the personal bodyguard units of the ruling shaykhs. In 1951 the British formed the Trucial Oman Levies (later called the Trucial Oman Scouts) under a British commander who reported to the British political agent of the gulf. By the time the United Arab Emirates (UAE) became independent on December 2, 1971, the scouts had become a mobile force of about 1,600 men, trained and led by about thirty British officers assisted by Jordanian noncommissioned officers (NCOs).

Arabs from the Trucial Coast made up only about 40 percent of the strength; Omanis, Iranians, Pakistanis, and Indians made up the remainder. Organized as light armored cavalry, the scouts used British weapons, trucks, and armored cars in carrying out police functions and in keeping peace among the tribes of the various amirates. During its approximately two decades of existence, the unit was respected for its impartial role in maintaining public order on the coast.

At the time of independence and federation, the Trucial Oman Scouts became the nucleus of the Union Defense Force (UDF), responsible to the federal minister of defense, the Supreme Council of the Union, and--ultimately--to the president of the federation, Shaykh Khalifa bin Zayed al Nahyan , ruler of Abu Dhabi. Separate emirate forces are also authorized by the provisional constitution, and the separate entities of the union--especially Abu Dhabi--have made clear that they intend to maintain their own forces. Drawing on tremendous oil wealth accumulated in the early 1960s, the emir of Abu Dhabi gave high priority to the development of the Abu Dhabi Defense Force (ADDF) when the British withdrawal from the gulf was announced. The ADDF--with 15,000 men and primarily British and Jordanian officers-- consisted of three army battalions, an artillery battery, twelve Hawker Hunter fighter-bombers, and a sea defense wing of four fast patrol boats. Dubai had a much smaller force of 2,000, Ras al Khaymah had 900, and Sharjah had even fewer.

Personnel for the UDF and separate amirate forces were recruited from several countries of the region, but soon after independence enlistments from Dhofar region in Oman and from the People's Democratic Republic of Yemen (PDRY, also seen as South Yemen) were curtailed out of fear that personnel from these areas might spread dangerous revolutionary doctrines. As the largest in territory, the most populous, and by far the richest of the emirates, Abu Dhabi has borne the brunt of funding the federation's military establishment. A major step toward unification of forces occurred in 1976 when Abu Dhabi, Dubai, and Ras al Khaymah announced the merger of their separate armed forces with the UDF. Sharjah had previously merged its police and small military units into the UDF. In 1997, the union was further strengthened when Dubai disbanded its armed forces and integrated them into the federal General Headquarters, which are based in Abu Dhabi.

In 2005 the UAE completed a 10-year, US$15 billion program to modernize its armed forces, upgrade its defense capabilities, and acquire modern technology. As a result of these efforts, the country is considered the most rapidly developing military power in the Gulf region. The UAE military consists of an army, navy, and air force. In 2004 total active troops were estimated at 50,500 personnel: army, 44,000; navy, 2,500; and air force, 4,000. Estimates in 2005 raised the total to 59,000 personnel. In early 2007, total active troops were estimated at 65,500 personnel: army, 59,000; navy, 2,500; and air force, 4,000.

The United States remains central to the UAE's defense policy. A defense pact with the United States, agreed to after the 1991 Gulf War and signed in 1996, allows the United States to preposition some troops and equipment in the UAE and affords it some rights to use air bases in the emirates. In 2004 the UAE and the United States signed a US$6.4 billion contract for the delivery of 80 F-16E/F Desert Falcon combat aircraft to the UAE air force by 2007. The first installment, delivered in April 2005, was marked by a high-profile official ceremony. Nearly 1,000 UAE personnel train at U.S. Army aviation centers in the United States. In 2003 the UAE, in conjunction with the United States, Britain, and France, established the Air Warfare Centre at Al Dhafra Air Base to serve as a regional training center, including F-16 training for the UAE and other Gulf Co-Operation Council (GCC) countries. Despite the significance of the military relationship with the United States, the UAE has sought diversification in the procurement of weaponry. France remains a primary source of military matériel, as witness recent purchases of Mirage 2000-9 combat aircraft and Panhard light armored vehicles. Russia, Germany, and Ukraine also have figured as actual or potential sources of military equipment.

The UAE is concerned by the military threat posed by Iran, given Iran's unilateral seizure of disputed islands in the Strait of Hormuz, its possession of intermediate-range ballistic missiles, and its suspected development of a nuclear capability. The UAE is not considered to be as vulnerable as Saudi Arabia to the threat from al Qaeda and other militant Islamist groups, as these groups do not have a base of operations or support in the emirates. There are, however, security concerns because of the general volatility of the Gulf region, the repeated terrorist attacks in Iraq, the size and mobility of the UAE's large, predominantly Muslim expatriate population, and the country's pro-Western and liberal business environment.

UAE officials, who meet regularly with their counterparts in the U.S. Departments of State and Defense, are concerned about the situation in Iraq, as well as the threat of further U.S. military action in the region, particularly against Iran, and the impact such an action would have on the UAE's unpopular pro-Western stance. In February 2005, at a major defense conference in Abu Dhabi, the UAE armed forces signed various agreements to purchase satellite surveillance systems and unmanned reconnaissance vehicles. Military experts view this shift from traditional military spending (e.g., tanks and aircraft) as an acknowledgment that the UAE's primary external threat has shifted from a conventional military attack to the threat of insurgency and terrorism.

The UAE's military is an all-volunteer force, of which an estimated 30 percent are expatriates. Sheikha Fatima, the wife of Sheikh Zayed Al-Nahayan, the President of the Emirates, was a great pioneer in changing the traditional roles of women in the UAE. With her husband’s support, she has done much for women by eliminating antiquated cultural barriers and expectations. When Iraq invaded Kuwaitin 1991, Emirati women began asking why they could not participate indefending their country if it ever came under attack. Sheikha Fatima agreed and helped set up the Khawlabint Al-Azwar Military School, named after a famous woman warrior in Islamic history who fought alongside the prophet Mohammed.

Women who wish to join the UAE military must be citizens between the ages of 18 and 28. They must have at least graduated from amiddle school and be willing to serve in the military for a minimum of five years. Recruits must also pass a medical examination as well as an interview by school personnel. Once accepted, the cadets undergo a basic training course that lasts six months. Once cadets graduate from training, they are assigned to vacant posts throughout the Emirati armed forces. Female Emirati soldiers serve in communications and communication engineering, secretarial, computer, and training positions for future recruits.

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