Jordan and the UAE lead the way in manufacturing military equipment at home
In a 2017 speech in Washington, D.C., His Majesty King Abdullah II bin Al Hussein of Jordan asked the audience: “What kind of world do we want, not only for ourselves, but for our children?” He was quick to invoke the need to combat violent extremism. The urgency of this need is felt strongly in Jordan — bordered by conflict-torn Iraq and Syria — but it also permeates the thinking of the defense sector in places such as the United Arab Emirates (UAE). In equipping their militaries for the task, Amman and Abu Dhabi are cultivating domestic defense industries to develop their economies, create high-value jobs and promote international partnerships.
“In Jordan, we have very good engineers, very well-educated people. That’s one of the major strengths. For such a small country, we have amazing human resources,” said Abdallah Al Salman, marketing and communications manager at the King Abdullah II Design and Development Bureau (KADDB). “We can be proud that we excel in the fields of studies that lend well to defense engineering.”
The state-owned KADDB has been among the leaders in advancing Jordan’s domestic defense industry, forming joint ventures with foreign defense firms to produce such things as armored vehicles, personal protection equipment, military rations, ammunition and night vision and thermal imaging systems. Partners from countries such as the UAE, the United States, the United Kingdom, Japan, South Africa, Sweden, Turkey and China affiliate with Jordanian companies operating under the KADDB umbrella at the KADDB Industrial Park (KIP) outside Amman. Companies active at KIP benefit from a package of investment incentives, tax exemptions, and services related to infrastructure and communication.
“KADDB has certainly created opportunities for young engineers in Jordan, particularly those with ambitions to work in the defense industry. It has all the facilities an engineer dreams about,” Jim Johnson, manager and consultant at Blackstone Global Security, told Unipath in an interview from his office in Amman. “Everything that’s required to research and test new technologies, so that young engineers can apply the skills that they have, as well as gain new experience.”
The Jordan Armed Forces (JAF), the Gendarmerie, the Jordanian police, and the Civil Defence Directorate are KADDB’s biggest customers, Johnson added. “I think they take a distinct pride in the fact that they are Jordanians using Jordanian products. To them, this matters. What’s more, it keeps defense spending in the country and helps develop local industry.”
Capabilities include research and development, testing, manufacture, and upgrade and modification of a vast range of defense products and systems covering five clusters: land systems, smart systems, arms and ammunition, troops, and electronics/electro-optics.
“KADDB is best at actually producing military applications for the kinetic fight,” Johnson said. “Their reliance upon external technologies and imports is mainly for electronic devices, surveillance devices and integration of those systems.”
An example of KADDB’s work with international partners is the Jordanian Mbombe, an imposing armored rough-terrain vehicle that can operate as an infantry fighting vehicle and a 12-passenger troop carrier. Produced collaboratively by KADDB and South Africa’s Paramount Group, it is based on a South African design, modified at KADDB to suit local operating conditions.
“This vehicle is probably the first-ever certified, flat-floored, mine-protected vehicle in the world,” said Ivor Ichikowitz, Paramount’s chairman and founder. “The collaboration extends way beyond JAF as a customer, as we are producing these vehicles in Jordan. We will be making them available to other customers in the Middle East, and this industrial partnership is an extension of other partnerships we have had in the past with KADDB.”
The vehicle, Ichikowitz explained, is being produced in Jordan at KIP with components supplied by other KADDB partners such as the Turkish defense manufacturer Aselsan. The vehicle’s turret was developed by KADDB’s own engineers, he said.
“This naked turret is relatively simple, but very well-produced,” Ichikowitz said. “It is cost-effective and very efficient. We are going to be incorporating this not only onto the Jordanian vehicles, but also onto vehicles that we are supplying elsewhere in the world.”
Soldiers hungry for meals with the taste of home, such as Jordan’s national dish, mansaf, benefit from another multinational partnership. To produce meals with official halal certification — meaning that they meet Muslim dietary codes — KADDB drew on the services of Malaysian food giant Brahim’s to produce field rations suited to Jordanian palates. Success at home has led KADDB to market the meals at trade shows abroad to the armed forces of other Muslim countries.
“They need no special storage conditions and have a two-year shelf life; they solve so many problems, not only for us, but also for our customers in neighboring countries,” Al Salman said. “They are very useful, for example, when there is an influx of hungry refugees, or when you have times of the year when there are mass feedings, such as at the Hajj or at Ramadan.”
Johnson praised KADDB’s success at bringing so many international partners on board, as well as attracting customers from abroad. “They do very well in putting on visits, hosting people, and being involved in such events as IDEX, the large defense contracting convention that takes place biennially in the UAE,” he said.
“Jordan also hosts the SOFEX [Special Operations Forces Exhibition] every two years. The KADDB display there is just amazing,” he said. “They go all-out and entice a lot of people and organizations to get involved. Such a wide array of partners who may well be competitors can be problematic. But they seem to avoid conflicts at KADDB.”
Success in the UAE
The UAE, meanwhile, has been rapidly redeveloping its own defense industry to meet the needs of internal security, cyber security, critical national infrastructure and regional stability while maximizing the use of its talent and infrastructure, according to local industry expert Kareem Chaudhry, a former country manager with BAE Systems and owner of Al Amin, a defense-oriented market research firm in Dubai.
“Local production and employment within UAE’s own defense sector is critical to the success of any proposal to the UAE military,” Chaudhry said by phone from his office in Dubai. “They understand that not everything can be produced locally. But where systems can be produced, part-produced or even assembled locally, this is important.”
Chaudhry added that, like Jordan, the UAE sees itself as a potential export base for foreign companies seeking to take advantage of the tax-free manufacturing and exporting that the country offers.
One joint venture is between Abu Dhabi Ship Building and Raytheon, the U.S. defense contractor. The partners will install, maintain and recertify Raytheon’s naval missiles in the Gulf, used on the UAE’s Baynunah-class corvettes and other ships. Another cooperative endeavor is the Advanced Military Maintenance, Repair and Overhaul Centre, also known as AMMROC, a joint venture owned by Mubadala Aerospace, Sikorsky Aircraft Corp. and Lockheed Martin Corp. in the UAE. Chaudhry emphasized UAE’s historic preference for U.S.-based defense partners, but noted changes in thinking.
“The past decade has seen a massive shift in UAE defense to more self-sufficiency,” he said. “Mubadala has been the key company spearheading this, but new companies have emerged in the last five to 10 years as well.”
Mubadala is a state-owned holding company in the UAE with a portfolio of investments topping $65 billion. It characterizes itself as “an active investor in sectors and geographies with long-term value propositions, working in partnership with world-class organizations to establish and manage joint ventures.” Mubadala’s chairman is His Highness Gen. Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Abu Dhabi’s crown prince and deputy supreme commander of the UAE Armed Forces.
“Mubadala was the original defense company in UAE,” Chaudhry said. “Today it is more than just defense, so it is trying to break out its defense capabilities, rebrand and create new opportunities.”
Central this effort is the Emirates Defense Industries Co. (EDIC), founded by Mubadala in 2014 as a vehicle to create partnerships with foreign business and to reorganize disjointed parts of Abu Dhabi’s defense industry in the name of efficiency. EDIC’s board contains members of the UAE’s royal court and its top-ranking military officers. Its mission is similar to KADDB in Jordan.
With security threats continuing to menace the Middle East, Jordan and the UAE are eager to show that strengthening national defense and economic development can, with a bit of creativity and cooperation, go hand in hand.
“Our world cannot accept such a status quo of violence, deprivation and fear,” King Abdullah said at his 2017 Washington speech. “We all need to act on the battlefield and beyond.”