Why this is important to Wisconsin businesses: The UAE is working to transform into an exporter and will need parts, components and machinery to achieve this; Saudi Arabia is becoming a world leader in digitization and needs cybersecurity infrastructure to match.

Experts such as Jane’s predicted a value reduction in United Arab Emirates (UAE) defense contract announcements at IDEX this year, based on the overall contraction of the UAE economy due to the effects of the pandemic and lower oil prices. This prediction turned out to be wrong: $5.7 billion in defense contracts were announced by UAE (up from $5.4 billion in 2019 and $5 billion in 2017). These contracts are a signal that notwithstanding the pandemic, the UAE government is committed to developing its nascent defense manufacturing base and to its goal of moving from buyer to seller.

Staff Brig. Gen. Mohammed Al Hassani, official spokesman for IDEX and the Naval Defense and Maritime Security Exhibition, deemed the total value of deals reached at the event “an indication of success of this exhibition.” In 2019, the ratio of international to domestic purchases was approximately 65:35; by 2021, the ratio had moved closer to 50:50. The UAE signed contracts to supply military equipment to not only Saudi Arabia (armored vehicles) but also Germany (missile system). With the UAE’s F35 purchase still under review by the Biden Administration and the lack of a U.S. government presence at the show itself (due to pandemic-related travel restrictions), it was notable that many of the UAE government’s interactions at IDEX were with countries with which the U.S. has tense relationships—Russia and China.

EDGE, the UAE defense manufacturing conglomerate first introduced at the Dubai Airshow in 2019, presented its development roadmap prioritizing autonomous systems (land, naval, aerial), cyberwarfare and advanced systems, reflecting a decision to focus on a short development cycle and niche product families rather than go head-to-head with any major, long-term R&D systems development.

With the Biden Administration renegotiating its relationship with Saudi Arabia, particularly in light of Jamal Khashoggi’s assassination and the conflict in Yemen, political discomfort is translating into commercial discomfort—especially as the UAE recently issued a public statement in support of the Saudi government’s claims regarding Khashoggi’s death—and the world is waiting to see how this trade relationship shakes out.

Saudi Arabia has gone to great lengths to establish a technical and legal framework to pave the way for digitization across its public and private sectors. Saudi Arabia currently ranks third in the world for 5G deployment, 13th globally in average internet speed and 11th for its digital business model legal infrastructure, according to the Word Economic Forum.

With greater digitization comes greater exposure to the damage caused by cyberthreats. Two of the most recent, most significant and most sophisticated cyberattacks ever carried out took place in the Middle East; one of them affecting the Saudi Aramco energy conglomerate. As it faces increasingly sophisticated adversaries, the country is dealing with a shortage of qualified personnel and high costs of building capable infrastructure. With personal, corporate and government data in need of protection, major opportunities exist for Wisconsin companies to provide security operations centers (SOC) as a service (SOCaaS) so businesses can outsource the creation and operation of a cybersecurity matrix that suits the needs and level of protection required by the organization.