The United Arab Emirates' military is relying on US training and expertise to increase its capabilities. (AFP/Getty Images)
DUBAI — The United Arab Emirates (UAE) armed forces, while considered highly capable among other militaries in the Arabian Gulf, still has huge obstacles to overcome when it comes to increasing the combat capability of the force.
One company taking part in that transformation is Virginia-based Knowledge International, which has become the main conduit of US military expertise to the gulf state.
Since 2010, the company has provided 125 former US Army officers to train Emirati soldiers in their mandate to transform the UAE’s land forces along US lines, Dan Monahan, Knowledge International’s managing director, said in an interview in Dubai last week.
“We’re focused on doing a transformation — an overall transformation — of their armed forces. There are a number of companies over there doing that, but we are the first US company that is Emirati-owned,” Monahan said. “The US is leaning really far forward in the saddle to give as much capability as possible to the UAE.”
Despite the US expertise provided, the UAE armed forces faces a huge challenge not easily overcome.
“We conducted a capability assessment in the Army, and the single biggest resource that they lack is the human resource,” Monahan said. “This is a country of around 8 million people with less than a million Emirati citizens, so they have a very difficult time recruiting and retaining talent inside their armed forces.”
Despite that lack of human resources, the capabilities of the UAE armed forces are the highest in the Arabian Gulf. According to the Gulf Military Balance report released this year by the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies, the Emirati military has about 51,000 active-duty troops.
“US military officials assert that operators of the UAE’s [Raytheon-made] Hawk surface-to-air missile system are on par with their US counterparts, that UAE fighter pilots are combat ready and that overall, they are the Spartans of the gulf,” the report stated.
Monahan agrees with the assertion. “The talent that they do get, especially in the special forces, is incredible, I agree, and that’s where I would put that analogy of the Spartans, because they have a very impressive capability in their special forces.”
The capabilities were reached through strategic partnerships and the establishment of companies such as Knowledge International.
The company was launched in January 2010 by Monahan and retired UAE Army officer Hussain al-Hammadi, chairman of Abu Dhabi-based Emirates Advanced Investments, as a fully licensed, Emirati-owned US company.
“It was set up in a similar construct to BAE Systems North America and other [foreign-owned] companies, which established a presence in the US.”
Licensed as an arms dealer and broker, the company sends trainers and arms and consults on procurement strategies, arranging the necessary licenses and agreements with the US State Department and Defense Department.
Monahan served in the US Air Force, where his last assignment was with the State Department as senior military adviser to the assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs.
The company’s strategic advisory board consists of some of the past decade’s biggest names in American land warfare: retired Army Gen. Bryan “Doug” Brown, who headed US Special Operations Command; retired Gen. James Conway, former commandant of the Marine Corps; and retired Army Gen. Stanley McChrystal, who commanded NATO’s International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan.
The company has about 21 authorizations from the US government, Monahan said.
“I have agreements to do defense services over here that range from F-16 pilot training to the transformation of their land forces. The Emirati military has 125 retired US Army officers who help train, transform and make effective their land forces,” he said.
In this context, they face challenges when it comes to compliance.
“Export compliance is a very serious thing for US companies to enforce and ensure,” he said. “There has been a history in this region in the defense services arena to not necessarily follow the regulations, and people tend to benchmark on other companies that may or may not be complying.”