Egypt, Middle East to boost defence spending

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Think-tank Forecast International expects Egyptian defence spending to reach around US$16 billion over the next five years with Israeli spending coming to over US$64 billion during that same timeframe.

Both are major beneficiaries of generous US Foreign Military Financing (FMF) allotments, Egypt receiving about US$1.3 billion per year and Israel some US$3 billion, which the latter uses to invest in modern jet fighters, its multi-layered anti-missile air-defense network, unmanned aerial vehicles, the Namer heavy infantry fighting vehicle “and a slew of other projects.” Impending purchases include a new advanced jet trainer and two large missile corvettes.
“The major defence markets of the Middle East continue to be dominated by the US,” says Forecast Middle East defence analyst Dan Darling in his annual Middle East market analysis. “Russia has footholds in Syria and Yemen and is making efforts to help equip the Lebanese Armed Forces. But its regional market share pales in comparison to that of the US. With President [Dimitri] Medvedev signing a decree back in September banning the supply of a variety of Russian armaments to Iran, the other major market for which Moscow was the principal supplier is now likely to be ceded to China.”

Writing more generally, Darling expects what he calls a “Middle East defence spending binge” to continue this year and “grow further in coming years as Gulf Arab nations embark on military modernisation programmes. In his forecast Darling expects defence investment across the region to expand by 14 percent over the next five years. The region’s continuation as a leading global area for military expenditure is being spurred by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

Medium-term regional defence growth will stem from not only the two core Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) members, but also Iraq, Darling adds. Faced with internal security challenges, plus the need to solidify its borders, Baghdad will invest an average of US$12.5 billion annually through 2015 towards the advancing development of the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF). The principle area of Iraqi investment going forward will be in bolstering the Iraqi Air Force (IQAF). The IQAF plans to field 500 fixed- and rotary-wing aircraft by 2020; its pressing needs include advanced jet trainers and combat aircraft.

The impending exodus of US forces from Iraq combined with a broad range of equipment requirements means that the pace of fitting-out the ISF will have to accelerate if the central government is to capably provide security. Such progress may be hindered if Pentagon investment in the Iraqi Security Forces Fund dries up due to Washington’s own budgetary pressures at home.

Since 2005 the US Department of Defense has allocated about US$19.1 billion to the fund. As a result of US financial largesse the bulk of Iraqi equipment orders flow through the Pentagon’s government-to-government FMS channel ensuring US defence companies are the beneficiaries.
“Although the Iraqi government would like to diversify its supply chain, the US remains its principal provider of military equipment,” says Darling. “So long as US funding towards the development of the new Iraqi Security Forces continues, this is unlikely to change. Should Washington turn off the tap, others will surely step into the void, including France, Russia and suppliers from Eastern Europe.”

While Iraq provides a robust market opportunity due to the ongoing ISF rebuilding process, the scale of investment in the Gulf region is higher. Spearheaded by a US$60 billion package of approved FMS agreements, Saudi Arabia aims to upgrade its air fleet with new and refurbished F-15 jet fighters and new helicopters including up to 70 Boeing AH-64D Apaches, 36 Boeing AH-6i Little Birds and 72 Sikorsky UH-60M BlackHawks. In addition there is mention of a major Royal Saudi Navy upgrade program also being pursued through Pentagon FMS channels that could be worth up to US$30 billion.

Mirroring the Saudi efforts, the UAE is also undertaking a modernisation of its Air Force. This modernisation includes an approved FMS agreement for the purchase of 60 AH-64D Apache helicopters. The UAE is also in the process of considering successors for its fleet of Mirage 2000 jet fighters in what may ultimately prove to be a 60-unit buy worth up to US$10 billion. Additional areas that the UAE may seek to upgrade include littoral protection and air defence.

Concrete defence cooperation amongst the six GCC members continues to be elusive, leaving each nation to pursue their needs independently. Thus the UAE, Kuwait and possibly Qatar are each contemplating a buy of the Dassault Rafale combat aircraft while the Saudis and Oman seek US-built solutions to their jet fighter needs. But despite the lack of progress within the GCC in terms of a common procurement approach, the one constant is that at the national level defence investment remains robust, generally representing between 10-20 percent of total state expenditure annually.

For 2010 combined GCC defense/security investment was US$68.3 billion. Forecast International expects that total to increase to $73.4 billion in 2011 and continue growing to $82.5 billion by 2015.
“Fearing Iran’s regional strength the GCC states continue to seek a distinct qualitative military-technological edge over Tehran,” Darling says. “But Iran’s manpower and missile strengths camouflage some serious weaknesses, such as command-and-control shortcomings, a combat aircraft fleet falling into disrepair and an armored vehicle inventory of questionable capability.

Other than its long-range missiles, Iran is limited for now in its ability to project conventional military power across the Gulf. In other words, some GCC countries may be susceptible to over-buying for a certain kind of threat that is not readily apparent.” Though it may lack the modern material seen in most Tier 1 militaries, this is not indicative of reluctance by Iran to improve and expand its weaponry or invest in defence. Tehran spends around US$9.3-9.5 billion annually, a trend Forecast expects to continue in the near-term. This level of expenditure places it amongst the five highest defence spenders in the region, behind Saudi Arabia, Israel, Iraq and the UAE. Much of Iran’s defence investment goes towards personnel costs, missile programmes, upgrading existing platforms and developing indigenous hardware.



Pic: Egyptian soldiers maintaining a border fence