BEIRUT — The United Arab Emirates has created a new border security organization to improve coordination between its seven emirates and their array of capabilities, which the country hopes to bolster with locally made systems.
A law passed Sept. 23 brought about the Dubai Council for Border Crossing Points Security, tasked with creating border security plans and policies, advising the government on these issues and ensuring the regulations match the law. The various government entities involved in border control include the General Authority of Ports, Borders and Free Zones Security as well as local, federal, regional and international groups, plus the seven emirates — Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Sharjah, Umm al-Qaiwain, Fujairah, Ajman and Ra’s al-Khaimah.
Saudi Arabia borders the UAE to the west and south, and Oman to the east and northeast. The UAE has built fences along these borders to try to prevent illegal activity.
The United Arab Emirates also shares sea borders with Qatar, Kuwait, Iran, Iraq and Bahrain. The CIA warns the UAE is a popular drug transshipment point for traffickers given its proximity to Southwest Asian drug-producing countries.
“The UAE has seven emirates with seven overlapping border security structures, and the problem is that each of them has individual ... forces and individual border controls over foreigners. The emirates that really have the most efficient systems are Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Fujairah,” said Anthony Cordesman, the emeritus chair in strategy at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
“For instance, the new border security body that is established in Dubai has its own conglomeration or separate structures for Dubai. ... I think people say the system works fairly well, but nobody does a perfect job,” he told Defense News. “Abu Dhabi is stricter about extremists or hard-liners — even just people who are politically aligned with Islamic parties — than Dubai is.”
The UAE’s military inventory is mostly made up of modern imported equipment. According to the CIA, since 2010, the country has purchased materiel from more than 20 countries, with the U.S. as its leading supplier.
But in alignment with Vision 2030, a UAE government effort to domestically produce 50 percent of its defense needs, the country launched a program dubbed “Emiratization” (locally known as “Tawteen”). The program mandates including Emirati nationals for local jobs, particularly in the private sector.
Emirati defense conglomerate Edge is a critical part of this initiative. The business is working on in-house designs and domestic production of systems meant to protect sensitive areas near land and coastal borders as well as sovereign airspace. Specifically, its subsidiary SIGN4L made the anti-drone NavControl system.
“NavControl-G is a [global navigation satellite system, or] GNSS, spoofing system that is designed to safeguard borders and protected areas from UAVs. The system emits counterfeit GNSS signals that mimic legitimate ones in order to generate an alternative path and safely mitigate the threat of hostile drones,” Waleid Al Mesmari, vice president of program management for Edge’s electronic warfare and intelligence business, told Defense News.
He said the first prototype was launched at the IDEX defense conference earlier this year, and that SIGN4L continues to test the product. NavControl-G is used as part of a larger system that includes radars and electro-optical/infrared sensors to detect, classify, identify and track hostile UAVs.
“We are aiming to extend our product portfolio in this area and are working on an advanced solution based on satellite data to enable situational awareness and thus contribute to further securing national borders,” Al Mesmari said.
Another Edge subsidiary, Abu Dhabi Ship Building, is also contributing to border security through locally made naval systems.
“The company had recently reinforced its design capabilities and developed a range of fast patrol boats entirely designed and built in the UAE,” said Faris Al Maqtari, director of business development at the shipbuilder. “160 ITEP, a 16-meter inshore tactical and engagement platform, was built to meet the specific requirements of the coast guard forces, who play an integral role in border security,”
Fitted with two diesel engines, the patrol boat offers a range of 350 nautical miles and speeds up to 50 knots. Available armaments range from a manually operated 12.7mm machine gun to a 30mm automatic cannon installed on a remote weapon station.
Al Maqtari told Defense News more designs and prototypes are in the pipeline for completion this year.
Meanwhile, Edge subsidiary Halcon, which specializes in guided munitions, is working on two major projects: a counter-rocket missile and an anti-ship missile.
The SkyKnight can counter rockets, artillery and mortars, according to Halcon chief executive Saeed Al Mansoori, and is the first entirely locally made weapon capable of such feats. He told Defense News the system can also provide early warning signals and precise surface-to-air intercept capabilities at a range of up to 10 kilometers.
Halcon announced in February it partnered with German defense firm Rheinmetall to integrate the SkyKnight with the latter’s Oerlikon Skynex air defense system. The combined technology provides a multi-sensor unit featuring active electronically scanned multimission radars, several 35mm revolver guns, and the SkyKnight missiles and launchers, each of which has a capacity of 60 missiles. The weapon can simultaneously intercept numerous multidirectional targets, providing protection for static assets as well as mobile forces.
Halcon also developed the HAS-250 anti-ship surface-to-surface missile, which can travel at speeds up to Mach 0.8 and has a range exceeding 250 kilometers, Al Mansoori said. During its terminal phase, the weapon can fly toward its target at a sea-skimming altitude of below 5 meters, he added. The HAS-250 uses GNSS and an inertial navigation system for targeting.
But these products must still undergo interoperability testing before they can be deployed, noted Theodore Karasik, a senior adviser at the U.S.-based geopolitical consultancy Gulf State Analytics. The country historically depends on foreign vendors to provide border protection systems, he added.
“The Edge systems are highly advanced and are capable of providing the type of C4ISR over the country as seen fit,” he said. “Various systems from Edge are beginning to appear, reflecting the group stepping forward with advanced solutions in a crowded market.”
But, Cordesman noted, “it is one thing to talk about these systems and another thing to actually deploy them.”
“Until a system is actually deployed, a lot of this is only talk about architecture that doesn’t exist,” he said.
Also concerning, Cordesman explained, is neighboring Iran’s steady advancements in missile technology alongside the UAE’s lack of an integrated missile defense or layered air defense system. The Emirates have “effective surface-to-air missiles and some anti-missile capabilities,” but the country needs to buy precision-guided missiles, cybersecurity technology and space-based early warning systems, he said.
“The U.S. can provide the UAE with warning about launch through its satellites, and it can give them a rough vector and under some circumstances it can give a rough idea of the character of the missile,” he said.
But Washington would rather see regional allies — specifically members of the Gulf Cooperation Council — create an interoperable system by sharing concepts, technologies and experience among each other and with the help of the U.S. and Israel, Cordesman noted. A number of Arab nations improved their diplomatic relations with Israel under the Abraham Accords, signed in September 2020.
“There is a feeling that the worst way to approach this is for each Gulf country to buy its own toys,” he said.
Agnes Helou is a Middle East correspondent for Defense News. Her interests include missile defense, cybersecurity, the interoperability of weapons systems and strategic issues in the Middle East and Gulf region.