Report from the UAE Advanced Defence & Security Technology Summit
Source: Trevor Lloyd-Jones , Author: BI-ME
Posted: Wed April 29, 2009 7:21 pm

INTERNATIONAL. The UAE government is keen to show itself at the forefront of defence technology initiatives, in a region that is so reliant on intelligence and the use of equipment, rather than outright manpower or force projection. BI-ME was at the inaugural UAE Advanced Defence & Security Technology Summit to discover how states in the region are defending themselves against the very modern threats of terrorism, marine piracy, human trafficking and social unrest, as well as traditional ‘symmetrical’ threats from neighbouring powers.

The top brass from several Arab and non-Arab countries along with representatives of several international defence companies attended the meeting in Dubai this week aiming at sharing experiences and further encouraging cooperation between military leaders and global defence enterprises.

Staging the UAE Advanced Defence & Security Technology Summit, coincides with increasing concerns over tension in some areas in Asia and Africa. Yet, the two are not related, the UAE spokesperson for the event said.

"The timing of the meeting has not been chosen for any reason. It had been planned earlier and is not related to the developments in the region," Lieutenant Colonel Yaqoob Yousuf Bin Hammad from the UAE Ministry of Defence said on the sidelines of the meeting.

There was an open discussion of preparing GCC states for different threats, with the emphasis on improving pan-regional communication and decision-making, using the latest net-centric approach to improve rapid reaction and intelligence gathering.

Dr Sami Al Faraj, Chairman of Kuwait Center for Strategic Studies, said: “We are not warring nations. We are essentially harbours, small nations with weaknesses and strengths. We are exposed to any intervention, but we are also well connected to the developed countries of the world.”

He added that the GCC is located close to some of the flashpoints of the world, as well as important economic and energy centres. “As a result, we cannot take human losses, so we cannot have a margin for error. The loss of even one human life is too much for us,” said Dr Al Faraj.

He spoke about the confrontation spectrum between the GCC and Iran, saying that although the Gulf states would like better relations with Iran, the fact is that the GCC is looking at Iran more as a threat than anyone else, and this created a need to build up symmetric defences.

“I do not speak on behalf of any government,” said Dr Al Faraj. “But speaking for myself, we need a total reorientation of our forces.” He spoke about the Iranian minefields left in the Straits of Hormuz since the 1986-1987 conflict with Iraq.

During the two-day meeting, delegates exchanged views and shared experiences on issues that range from bloody attacks in Iraq and terrorism in Pakistan and Afghanistan, to organised crimes including money laundering and sea piracy.

There was a long segment dedicated to martime piracy and the scourge of attacks on shipping fleets in the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden.

"Sharing experiences and opening the door for discussion in such an open way is something new to the region," said Mustafa Al Ani, a prominent strategic analyst at the Dubai-based Gulf Research Centre.

There is a realisation that these issues should be discussed openly, he added.

The eminent participants include Lieutenant General Obaid Mohammad Abdullah Al Ka'abi, Under Secretary at the UAE Ministry of Defence, Lieutenant General Raza Mohammad Khan, Deputy to the Chairman, joint Chiefs of Staff in Pakistan, top brass from Pakistan and many NATO members, including the US and UK.

Other representatives from defence companies from countries such as Northern America, Europe and the Middle East are also participating. Their products range from software to military equipment.

The meeting aims to "gain the technological experience from US and Europe," Bin Hammad explained, adding, "the next generation has to have the technology and every country in the world has the right to own technology."

Bin Hammad and many delegates at the meeting don't feel that boosting countries' defence technologies contradicts with attempts to solve regional issues peacefully.

"Technology is like any other weapon," said Brigadier Nayel Al Madadha, Director of IT Directorate of the Jordanian Armed Forces, one of the most experienced in the Middle East.

"By possessing technology, countries can impose their own conditions. This is a focal point in solving any issue," Al Madadha said.

Many military companies look at the region as a "permanent market" for their products, Al Ani noted.

Meanwhile, the volume of weapons exported to the Middle East has risen sharply in the last four years, threatening to destabilise the volatile region further, a leading Swedish think tank warned this week.

The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute said arms exports to the Middle East increased 38% in the period 2004 to 2008, compared with 1999 to 2003. The United States supplied most of the arms although major shipments also came from France.

Sources of internal and external threats

Dr Mustafa Alani, Director of Security & Terrorism Studies at the Gulf Research Center, said that in the modern world the control of internal security is becoming more important than the aspect of external security. The example of Iraq serves to show us vividly about attempts to destroy a state from the inside.

He said the Gulf region is facing threats from several sources and top of the list are the terrorist and extremist activities, as well as organized crime groups which are being increasingly closely linked with political groups for common aims. Sabotage and destabilization attempts can easily come from a foreign state using intelligence, he said.

“In any issue, we have to talk about the existing and potential threats,” said Dr Alani. “The materialization of the threat can take the form of attacks on the leadership, on the political life of the country,” he said. “It can also take the form of attacks on foreign assets or tourism assets, oil installations or oil export capacity. In addition threats can come in the form of paralyzing the state, with riots or protests from the foreign workfoce, which exists in the region in large numbers.”

Dr Alani said states usually follow three lines of defence: managing the developments inside the state, managing the borders, and acting beyond the borders of the state. All these aspects require substantial investments in electronic elements. For example, Saudi Arabia spends US$9 billion per year on surveillance and other equipment to secure its borders with Iraq and Yemen. Citizens and residents are another important element of security awareness, and in this aspect, including the buying of information, the role of the media and education, Saudi Arabia has been a major success, according to Dr Alani.

“Saudi Arabia has been very successful in developing a sense of responsibility and an effective command and control. We have seen the collapse of Al Qaeda in the Kingdom with intelligence awareness, and this is a great achievement for Saudi Arabia because of the transformation of the view of the society. Security information costs a lot, and it cannot be given free.”

In Saudi Arabia, he noted there had been 400 people arrested in the last three years in connection with terrorist activities. “Al Qaeda is much weaker than before, and it is concentrating on soft or semi-soft targets,” said Dr Alani.

In terms of analyzing the origin of threats to the region, he said that the issues caused by returning combatant Iraqis and Afghanis cannot be underestimated. Al Qaeda has restructured from the several national commands previously, to one single command for the Gulf and another for North Africa.

“There are some countries which have not been affected yet [by Al Qaeda attacks],” he said. “And it now appears that the trend is toward economic jihad, with future attacks likely to come on the economic infrastructure of the economy.”

The panelists agreed that the rise in maritime piracy attacks in the Indian Ocean, as well as in the Middle East area, is an aspect of this economic jihad, combined with the effect of political problems in Somalia and other parts of East Africa.

There is still potential for a spectacular attack on a major oil installation. And one example of this is the February 2006 attack on the Abaiq oilfield of Saudi Arabia – an attack which came from the sea – which would have had the effect of costing two thirds of daily Saudi oil production, a total of 7 million barrels per day.

Dr Alani cited the rise of organized crime groups as becoming increasingly blurred with some militant Islamic groups. He said that destabilization of the society, when it is sponsored by a foreign state, can be manifested in three ways: by direct action, by the utilization of local agents or sympathizers and by the use of third part contractors. Such actions can come in the form of counterfeit or illegal currency activities, different types of legal and illegal immigrants who have the capability to disappear or hide their identity, and other challenges to the state such as arms smuggling, drugs, piracy and cyber attacks.

“Increasingly the threat is becoming indirect, at the nexus between terrorism and organized crime,” said Dr Alani.

Network-centric warfare

Dr Mohammed Al Ahbari, Chief Advisor to the Chief of Staff, UAE Armed Forces, said that the UAE approach is becoming increasingly focused on the use of technology for dealing with current and future crises and he explained the efforts of the UAE Armed Forces to support both regional and national security.

“It is not a choice. The situation is forcing us to prepare for this kind of transformation and it requires the joint efforts of states and military, civil and allied forces,” said Dr Al Ahbari.

He added that the trend in the GCC is toward information sharing although traditionally in the military, it was agreed that there is still difficulty in putting real actionable knowledge, and not just simple information, on the table.

“The trend to information sharing requires the communication network. Interoperability for now is limited, but this is becoming increasingly important,” he said.

“There are many obstacles and many standards used around the world, which is why such an exchange is not possible at this time. But the soldier should be equipped with different kinds of adaptable communications equipment for the future battle space.”

There was a discussion about communications systems encompassing the whole arena, from ground to sky to space and in this regard the UAE is very active with several satellite programmes including the Yahsat and two other satellite programmes with both military and civil or ‘eye in the sky’ capabilities.

Dr Al Ahbari said that the UAE is seeking a partnership with industry to exploit the best commercial systems and bring best practice and training to the security services. He said the UAE has a clear vision for such a capability and it has very good relations with advance countries in this regard.

General Abdulameer Abaas Ali, Assistant Deputy for Infrastructure Affairs at the Iraq Ministry of Interior, gave a perspective on how Iraq is rebuilding its internal security operations. He said that the last 40 years, including the current conflict that is still going ahead, had strained the courage of the Iraqi people. But he added that there is a major recovery in Iraq in terms of internal security, in the use of the latest technology, which the country has been away from for a long time.

“The strategic goals of the Ministry of Interior are the protection of Iraqi people from the terrorist threat,” said General Ali. He said that Iraq had been successful in creating a disciplined and professional police force, away from sectarian tendencies.

He added that port screening facilities in Iraqi ports were now being improved with the latest technology. “There is no use for internal security, without controlling the borders,” he said, adding that Iraq now had installed scanning equipment and radar at ports of entry, including the use of unmanned aerial drones and newly-built border posts, an aspect of physical security that had been left in a complete void following the disbanding of the army after 2003.

He said that in common with some other Arab states like Kuwait and Qatar, Iraq is in the process of establishing a new coordination authority, similar to the CNIA (Critical National Infrastructure Authority) of the UAE.

Sea piracy to enter a new and deadly phase

Commander Ranjit B Rai, former Director of Indian Naval Operations and Vice President of the Indian Maritime Foundation, gave a perspective on the very ambitious expansion of the Indian Navy.

Rai said that the Indian Navy and Coastguard came to much higher importance following the Mumbai bombing of 26/11.

He said that India, with its growing energy industry, its long 7,500 kilometre coastline, its strategic position on the trade routes from the Middle East to China as well as India, and the vast area of the Indian Ocean, had many of the same threats as the Gulf.

“Sea control and sea denial, that is what determines a blue water navy,” said Commander Rai. He pointed to greater tensions coming from the sea, such as the transborder movements of people, the threat of oil spills and pollution, which can have a big impact on the economy.

The dramatic growth of India and China is important for the world. There is a need for energy security and this has caused both countries to turn their sights from the land to the sea. He said that whereas the Indian Navy and its missile technology had traditionally relied on Russian collaboration, India is now turning to the West. The country today has 40 naval ships on order and another nine coastguard ships.

Vice Admiral Jacques Mazars of French group Marine Nationale, said that shipping routes are today the blood vessels of globalization. There are currently 50,000 ships involved in global maritime traffic and 62% of the world’s oil is transported by sea., including 20 million barrels per day that passes through a small number of strategically important straits.

“Even when the crisis is not in front of us, we have to plan for what can affect us in two years, three years, or even ten years,” he said.

The Gulf of Aden attacks are increasing and in 2008 there were more cases than in the last three years, he added. There is a concentration of natural resources in the Indian Ocean and simple fisherman can become real pirates with very few resources. “They have the capability to completely block what the peace is bringing for all of us,” he said.

Whereas in 2006 there were just five successful pirate attacks globally and ten aborted attempts, this figure leapt to 43 with 165 aborted attempts in 2008. So far there have been five successful attacks and 36 aborted attempts in 2009.

Mazars said that drug traffikers were one of the big winners from this state of lawlessness on the seas. With the drug routes in North and South America now blocked, they have found others in West Africa, which is the source of more and more problems.

“Therefore we can see this is an international affair. We have to stop it, not at 200 miles or 2,000 miles, but at 10,000 miles.”

So it becomes a global problem, even if there are a lot of actors and different authorities at sea - which complicates the problem – as well as sensitive commercial issues, for example for oil companies in disclosing destinations of their vessels and their cargoes.

Brigadier James Baxter, Managing Director of the British international security firm Aegis, said that Somali pirates have developed in reaction to instability in that country. Although pirates tend to avoid publicity, he said there is a new wave of young 16 to 17 year old pirates who become celebrities back in their home village.

He said that energy security will become increasingly important as the world emerges from this current recession. And in this coming period, there are three waterways that will become fragile for world trade: the Straits of Hormuz (the most vulnerable), Babel el Mander (currently a major concern for the 3.5 million bpd of oil it carries to Europe and the US) and the Malacca Straits (which has seen a rise in copycat-type piracy attacks).

“Piracy is an ancient trade, with a long complicated history,” said Baxter. “But in the current phase there is an increased linkage to organized crime and the violence can be extreme. Piracy and terrorism can blur, and it will not be lost on Al Qaeda, how successful the pirates have been, and how quickly they can take a supertanker within 10 or 15 minutes.”

He said that most of piracy today is of a non-state origin, but this is an area to watch and nations, notably the US have especially realized the importance of tackling it.

In the Gulf of Aden there have been talks about setting a secure sea channel, although there has been no result on this yet and shipping companies are only able to make use of certain secure waypoints where they can check in with the US Navy. But speaking frankly, “it is a mess,” said Baxter.

As a risk advisor to Lloyds of London and with its several offices in Afghanistan, Iraq, Bahrain, the US and the UK, Aegis says it is well placed to serve a coordinating role between the different governments and maritime agencies involved in the problem.

“Our view, expressed to the insurance market, is that the naval presence has up to now only had an indirect influence. We have seen the reaction of many owners of these vessels, who have taken steps to harden non-lethal defence against boarding.  But this has provoked a response from the pirates who have become more sophisticated in their methods,” said Baxter, “for example with the use of mother ships and decoys.”

He also predicted an upturn in the levels of violence used by the pirates, and this could potentially be an escalation of the issue politically. “There have been talks on better coordination [between insurers, owners and all the maritime agencies] but in fact nothing has been achieved,” said Baxter.

Al Qaeda inspired attacks on shipping are another phenomenon we can expect to see increase. The Gulf states after all cover an area of high strategic value with naval assets, oil and gas facilities, city centres and tourist sites all in close proximity. The Lloyds insurance market still sets as an exclusion zone (the area of highest risk) all of the Saudi ports as well as all the ports of the Red Sea, Qatar and Bahrain.

Al Qaeda fatwas on oil and gas installations are well-known and a new focus on the Gulf region could lead to one of the groups attempting something spectacular. As one delegate said: “Iran is a potential flashpoint, even if it also relies on the Straits of Hormuz as being economically very important. But there is a great rise in tension.”

The private sector can, and must, help better coordination and communication between all the vested interests. There is a full spectrum of technology and risk related services that governments can use.

 

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