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Gulf states on weapons buying binge { January 2007 }

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Gulf States Plan Weapons Buying Binge
Flush with cash and fearful, wealthy oil states in the Persian Gulf plan weapons buying binge

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates, Feb. 16, 2007
By JIM KRANE Associated Press Writer

(AP) Deep fears about the war in Iraq and growing tension between the United States and Iran are driving the wealthy oil states of the Persian Gulf to go on shopping sprees for helicopters, ships and tanks, officials say.

Some 900 weapons makers and security firms from around the world, including the U.S. and Russia, will compete for those military buys at the IDEX military show that opens Sunday in Abu Dhabi. At stake are contracts predicted to soar past the $2 billion signed at the last such show two years ago.

"The shopping lists are directly correlated to the threat perception," said military analyst Mustafa Alani of the Dubai-based Gulf Research Center. "For the past 15 years, these countries didn't invest a lot in rearming."

But now they're rushing to upgrade.

The biggest fear in the region is that Iraq will collapse into civil war and its violence will spill into nearby Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates, Alani said.

Those countries want to protect critical sites such as oil installations, ports _ and U.S. military bases that house tens of thousands of American troops. Of those five nations, only Saudi Arabia has no American bases.

Helicopters and electronic warning sensors are expected to be hot sellers. For example, seaborne early warning radar can can detect rogue vessels approaching ports or oil terminals, said Robin Hughes, a Mideast military analyst at the London-based agency Jane's, a sponsor of the show.

If Iran were threatened or attacked by the United States or Israel, its ballistic missiles could hit land targets or ships, and its mines could block the narrow shipping lanes that carry oil from the Gulf.

That scenario is pushing Gulf defense ministers to consider missile defense systems like the Patriot, sold by U.S. manufacturer Raytheon Co. They also are eyeing warships, including mine sweepers, and early-warning radar, Hughes said.

In particular, the Saudi military is looking for air defenses and helicopters and perhaps naval frigates, Hughes said. Eurocopter, a French and German consortium, is working to sell its Tiger helicopter gunships to the Saudi military, he said.

The Emirates' shopping list includes ship-to-ship missiles, Hughes said.

Iran isn't believed to be sending an official delegation to the show. But military officials from Iran, who just took delivery of Russian-made TOR-1 air defense systems, are certain to be roaming the show and studying the weapons.

"They will be looking at interesting air defense systems that other countries are buying," Hughes said. "They want to see what's on the market and what others are buying, and how you defeat those capabilities."

Unmanned aerial vehicles, like Northrop Grumman Corp.'s jet-powered Global Hawk, also will be on display. U.S. manufacturer AAI Corp. will demonstrate robots boats as a defense for offshore oil platforms and ports.

Harbor visitors will also get to gawk at warships for sale by British, French and German shipbuilders.

Other exhibitors include some of the world's largest arms makers: Boeing Co., Lockheed Martin Corp., BAE Systems PLC, the Thales Group and Russia's state-run makers of tanks, trucks and howitzers.


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