Over the last decade I have spent working in the aerospace and defense sector in the Middle East and North Africa region, I have witnessed the landscape shifting and believe we are now at the beginning of a new chapter of regional security strategy.
Never have Gulf nations been so well equipped to deal with regional threats and held such a formidable military capability.
But simply possessing next generation weaponry and advanced defense systems is not enough to guarantee security against a backdrop of rapidly evolving threats, including from near-peer adversaries.
Advanced equipment and weapons platforms are all but redundant without the training and skills needed for people to operate them safely and effectively.
One good example of a country combining next generation systems and highly trained professionals capable of winning in a multi-domain combat scenario is the UAE. Estimated to have spent $19.8 billion on defense in 2020, the nation is the region’s second-largest defense spender.
As the country prepares for the post-oil era, it has steadily laid the foundations for a long-term defense industrial base, promoting domestic investment, production, technology transfers and strategic partnerships.
The UAE’s efforts have paved the way for some major consolidation in the industry, such as the establishment of the Edge group in 2019, bringing together 25 entities under one umbrella with a mission to develop advanced defense technology solutions.
But in reducing reliance on imports and strengthening its in-house defense manufacturing capability, the UAE has had to match its investment in advanced hardware with investment in equally cutting-edge training.
Partnering with different companies has allowed the UAE to develop robust training ecosystems. These range from full-on, comprehensive turnkey projects to bespoke virtual reality and digital learning environments.
As countries in the Gulf region evolve their defense systems to prepare for adversaries in a multi-domain environment, there is a palpable need for immersive and adaptable simulation-based training systems that can upskill personnel quickly and prepare them for the real-life combat.
Today, training for a multi-domain environment demands a more integrated, holistic approach which employs technologies like virtual reality and artificial intelligence. The advantages of this ultra-realistic training are widely appreciated.
But the benefits of technologically advanced training extend beyond the trainee. By incorporating data analytics into realistic training to create a digitally immersive ecosystem, training can be used as a tool to help inform and support governments on national defense policy or course of action analysis.
In short, good training strategies today need to consider programs that go beyond the individual for a country to prepare for conflict.
The UAE’s commitment to building its training capabilities to match its expanding defense and security systems is an approach that all governments and major players in the region should be taking to be more prepared for emerging threats.
In the face of economic headwinds, it is important for defense procurers to carefully consider how they prioritize training projects and solutions. It is crucial to appreciate the benefits of ultra-realistic, virtual training as part of a digitally immersive ecosystem.
The region can expect to see expertise in defense grow across domains including air, land, maritime, space and cyber. In this way, the region as a whole can better protect itself against real-life threats.
The region’s social-political landscape continues to shift quickly and unpredictably.
As we embark on this new chapter of regional security, investment in training must remain an absolute priority. If it does not, countries risk wasting huge portions of defense budgets on equipment that cannot be operated to maximum effect.