Men gathered around an aircraft with one climbing inside

United Arab Emirates

The UAE has a highly authoritarian regime, which often uses its affluence to dissuade other governments from raising concerns about its human rights abuses. The UAE has a significant role in the Saudi-led coalition bombing Yemen.


The United Arab Emirates is a federation of seven states including the capital Abu Dhabi and Dubai. Ruled by the UK until independence in 1971, the discovery of oil in the 1950s has brought great wealth. More recently the UAE has diversified into tourism and trading, as well as becoming a major hub for transport and the media.

The UAE has a highly authoritarian regime. According to Human Rights Watch, it often uses its affluence to dissuade other governments from raising concerns about its human rights abuses. These include arbitrary detention and allegations of torture of detainees, as well as the abuse of migrant construction and female domestic workers.

The UAE has a significant role in the Saudi-led coalition bombing Yemen.

Arms supplies

The¬†Stockholm International Peace Research Institute lists the UAE as the world’s eighth largest importer of weapons in the period from 2015 to 2019. Its main suppliers in that period were the United States (68%), France (11%) and Netherlands (3.4%).

The UAE hosts military and security exhibitions including¬†IDEX, one of the world’s biggest, and the¬†Dubai Airshow.

UK sales and military links

The UAE is one of the UK’s biggest arms customers¬†although, compared with other suppliers, the UK’s sales there are comparatively modest. This is not through choice. Despite a massive UK government effort, led by then Prime Minister David Cameron, BAE Systems failed¬†to secure a contract to supply 60 Eurofighter Typhoons in 2013. Talks later started with France about the Rafale fighter.

The UK’s 2015 National Security Strategy and Strategic Defence and Security Review made a commitment to establish a permanent British Defence Staff in the Gulf. This is¬†based¬†in Dubai.

Men gathered around an aircraft with one climbing inside

A UAE military delegation visit BAE Systems’ stand at UK arms fair Farnborough International in 2014


UK arms companies which have previously applied for licences to export military equipment to the UAE include:

  • BAE Systems. Although it was unsuccessful in its bid to win a contract for Eurofighter Typhoons, it has supplied UAE with weapons including artillery, aircraft,¬† surface-to-air missile systems, and a range of armoured vehicles
  • Accuracy International. A manufacturer of sniper rifles. The company received significant criticism in 2011 for attempting to sell sniper rifles to Gaddafi’s regime just months before the outbreak of the revolution¬†(Telegraph, 10.9.2011).
  • AEI Systems. A manufacturer of aircraft cannons, mounted machine guns and aircraft spares.
  • BCB International. A company thrown out of the DSEI 2007 arms fair for advertising the sale of¬†leg irons¬†(Guardian, 12.9.2007).
  • Chemring. A manufacturer of munitions and pyrotechnics, which included items such as tear-gas canisters, CS rounds and stun grenades. Its
  • tear gas has been used by Egyptian security services against demonstrators in Tahir Square (Independent, 4.12.2011), and in (TODO Hong Kong]. In 2019 it said that it “no longer manufactures, sells or distributes any CS gas or related products.”¬†
  • Manroy Engineering. A manufacturer of heavy and light machine guns, machine gun turrets for armoured vehicles, and sniper rifles
  • NSAF. The UK name of the German company Heckler and Koch, which manufactures some of the world’s most widely used small arms.
  • Primetake manufacture shotgun cartridges, pyrotechnics, stun grenades, baton rounds and CS gas canisters. It exhibited such products at a UAE arms fair during the height of the Arab Uprisings in 2011. (Guardian, 21.2.2011).
  • Pyser-SGI. A company which manufactures night-vision goggles, weapon sights, thermal imaging equipment and sniper spotting scopes.
  • Qioptiq (now part of Excelitas). Its products include night-vision scopes, weapon sights, missile guidance systems, and head-up-displays for fighter jets.
  • Viking Arms. A firearms and ammunition distribution company.


Key statistics

£422 million

published value of UK arms exports licensed to UAE in last 3 years



companies have applied for UK military export licences to United Arab Emirates



largest importer of weapons in the world

SIPRI data

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