United Arab Emirates Armed Forces

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United Arab Emirates Armed Forces
القوات المسلحة لدولة الإمارات العربية المتحدة
UAE Armed Forces Coat of Arms.svg
Seal of the United Arab Emirates Armed Forces
Flag of the UAE Armed Forces.svg
Flag of the United Arab Emirates Armed Forces
Founded1951; 70 years ago (1951)
Current form1971
Service branchesUAE Army.svg United Arab Emirates Army
Insigne incognitum.svg United Arab Emirates Navy
United Arab Emirates Air Force.svg United Arab Emirates Air Force
UAE Presidential Guard.svg United Arab Emirates Presidential Guard
Insigne incognitum.svg United Arab Emirates Special Forces
Insigne incognitum.svg United Arab Emirates Coast Guard
Insigne incognitum.svg United Arab Emirates Border Guard
HeadquartersZayed Military City, Abu Dhabi, UAE
WebsiteMinistry of Defence
Supreme CommanderPresident Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan
Deputy Supreme CommanderGeneral Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan
Minister of DefenceVice President Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum
Chief of StaffLt. General Hamad Mohammed Thani Al Rumaithi (since 2005[1])
Military age18 years
Active personnel65,000[2]
Reserve personnel90,000
BudgetUS$22.755 billion (2014)
Percent of GDP5.6%
Domestic suppliersAl Jaber Land Systems
Caracal International
Nimr LLC
LAHAB Munitions
Foreign suppliers United States
 United Kingdom
 Russia [3]
Related articles
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Lebanese Civil War
Gulf War
Kosovo Force
United Nations Operation in Somalia II
War in Afghanistan (2001–present)
Libyan Civil War (2011)
Libyan Civil War (2014–present)
International military intervention against ISIL
Yemeni Civil War (2014–present)
RanksMilitary ranks of United Arab Emirates

The United Arab Emirates Armed Forces (Arabic: القوات المسلحة لدولة الإمارات العربية المتحدة‎, romanizedAl-Quwwāt al-Musallaḥa li-Dawlat al-ʾImārāt al-ʿArabīyyah al-Muttaḥidah) are the armed forces of the United Arab Emirates and have primary responsibility for the defence of all seven emirates. They consist of approximately 60,000 personnel, and are headquartered in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.

The United Arab Emirates Armed Forces were formed in 1951 as the historic Trucial Oman Scouts, a long symbol of public order in Eastern Arabia. Since their formation, the armed forces have been deployed in various military and humanitarian missions. Owing to their active and effective military role despite their small personnel, the United Arab Emirates Armed Forces are commonly nicknamed "Little Sparta" by United States Armed Forces General and former US defense secretary James Mattis.[4]


A falcon was added to the original Trucial Oman Levies insignia to signify the union of the seven emirates and formation of a united force.

Prior to the union of the emirates, different tribal confederations formed the de facto military force which was dominant in the area now known as the United Arab Emirates. The Bani Yas and Al Qawasim were the most significant of those tribal confederations. The Al Qawasim were a major maritime force in the region, which prompted the British Royal Navy to organize several campaigns, such as Persian Gulf campaign of 1809 and Persian Gulf campaign of 1819 and the deployment of ground forces in Ras Al Khaimah to control the trade routes the Al Qawasim dominated. With the signing of the 1820 General Maritime Treaty between the British and the tribal sheikhs and the commencement of the British Residency of the Persian Gulf, the British Empire with the assistance of Sheikh Khalid III bin Muhammad al-Qasimi endeavored to form a unified paramilitary force based in Sharjah to suppress the slave trade and prevent tribal conflicts. The paramilitary force was named the Trucial Oman Levies.[5]

The current United Arab Emirates military was formed from the historical Trucial Oman Levies which was established on 11 May 1951. The Trucial Oman Levies, which were renamed the Trucial Oman Scouts in 1956, were a locally raised, British commanded force long considered a symbol of public order in Eastern Arabia.[6] The Trucial Oman Scouts were turned over to the United Arab Emirates as the nucleus of its defense forces in 1971 with the formation of the UAE and were absorbed into the newly formed united military called the Union Defence Force (UDF). The Union Defence Force was established officially as the military of the United Arab Emirates on 27 December 1971 from a directive issued by the UAE's founding father and first president, Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan.[7]

As the Union Defence Force, every emirate was responsible for the equipment and training of its own defence forces. In the event of an attack on any one of the seven emirates, the Union Defence Force would be mobilized from every emirate to defend the emirate under attack. In 1974 the name was changed to the Federal Armed Forces. On 6 May 1976, the Federal Armed Forces were unified as a single body. This was considered a historic event and a large milestone in the military of the United Arab Emirates. May 6 is celebrated annually as the Military Union Day. As a result of the union of forces, the number of personnel formed a brigade and was referred to as the Yarmouk Brigade.[7]

After the union of the armed forces in 1976, the Yarmouk Brigade was officially renamed the United Arab Emirates Armed Forces. The three largest emirates defence forces which originally formed the Federal Armed Forces, Abu Dhabi Defence Force, Dubai Defence Force, and Ras Al Khaimah Mobile Force, were converted into three major military bases/zones for the United Arab Emirates Armed Forces. In 1976 the official UAE Armed Forces insignia, uniform, military academies, air force, and naval force were established and the military General Headquarters (GHQ) was formed in the capital Abu Dhabi.[7]

Although initially small in number, the UAE armed forces have grown significantly over the years and are presently equipped with some of the most modern weapon systems, purchased from a variety of outside countries, mainly France, the US and the UK. Most officers are graduates of the United Kingdom's Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst, with others having attended the United States Military Academy at West Point, the Royal Military College, Duntroon, and St Cyr, the military academy of France.

The United Arab Emirates Armed Forces participated in multiple conflicts, mostly in the Middle East. From 1977-1979 the UAE Army contributed 750 men to the Arab Deterrent Force peacekeeping mission in Lebanon.[8] During 1990–1991, the Armed Forces participated in the first Gulf War. 10 Emirati soldiers lost their lives in liberating Kuwait.[9] The UAE Armed Forces were also deployed in Eastern Europe and joined NATO's Kosovo Force peacekeeping mission undertaking aid missions to thousands of fleeing refugees on the Albanian border. This was the first time Emirati troops uniform was switched to the woodland camouflage compared to their regular home desert camouflage.[10] The UAE Armed Forces also participated in the peacekeeping mission in Somalia from 1993-94. The UAE Armed Forces is also the only Arab country to commit troops to maintain security and participate in humanitarian aid missions to Afghanistan. The Emirati special Forces, the Presidential Guards, were deployed to maintain security in War in Afghanistan against the Taliban. In March 2011, the UAE joined the enforcement of the no-fly-zone over Libya by sending six F-16 and six Mirage 2000 multi-role fighter aircraft[11] and in 2015 the UAE joined the Saudi-led coalition intervention in Yemen by sending 30 UAEAF F16 Desert Falcons to Yemen. The intervention was followed by Emirati ground troops deployment in Southern Yemen mainly focusing on targeting terrorist cells such as the Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and the Islamic State.

The UAE introduced a mandatory military conscription for adult males in 2014 of 16 months to expand its reserve force.[12] The date of the first death in the line of duty of an Emirati soldier was on 30 November 1971 during the Seizure of Abu Musa and the Greater and Lesser Tunbs as is celebrated annually as the Commemoration Day. The highest loss of life in the history of the UAE military occurred on Friday 4 September 2015, when 52 soldiers were killed in Marib area of central Yemen by a Tochka missile which targeted a weapons cache and caused a large explosion.[13] All the names of Emirati soldiers who died in the line of duty are inscribed in the UAE Armed Forces memorial, the Oasis of Dignity, in the capital Abu Dhabi.


United Arab Emirates Honor Guard

There is one unified military structure across the UAE. The military forces consist of an Army, Navy, Airforce, and the Presidential Guard (PG) Special forces.

Military branches[edit]

UAE Army[edit]

As part of the military of the United Arab Emirates, the Army (called Land Forces in Arabic) is responsible for land and ground based operations.

  • Medical Corps form part of the UAE Army and are responsible for military medical support to the rest of the UAE Armed Forces.

UAE Air Force[edit]

The United Arab Emirates Air Force has about 4,000 personnel.[14] The air force agreed in 1999 to purchase 80 US F-16 multirole fighter aircraft. Other equipment includes 60 Mirage 2000s, British Hawk aircraft, and French helicopters. The air defense has a Hawk missile program for which the United States has been training. The UAE has taken delivery of two of five Triad I-Hawk batteries.

UAE Navy[edit]

The United Arab Emirates Navy consists of more than 2,000 personnel and 72 vessels.

  • United Arab Emirates Marines – The UAE maintained a small battalion-sized Marine force called the UAE Marines until 2011 when it was merged into the UAE-PG.
  • United Arab Emirates Coast Guard – The United Arab Emirates Coast Guard is the official coast guard agency of the United Arab Emirates and is primarily responsible for the protection of the UAE's coastline through regulation of maritime laws, maintenance of seamarks, border control, anti-smuggling operations and other services.

UAE Presidential Guard[edit]

The United Arab Emirates Presidential Guard (UAE-PG) was formed in 2011 by merging the Amiri Guard, Special Operations Command, and the Marine Battalion from the UAE Navy. UAE requested training support be provide by the U.S. Marine Corps (USMC).[15] The U.S. State Department approved a foreign military sales (FMS) Training Case for UAE-PG in October 2011. Marine Corps Training Mission UAE (MCTM-UAE) operates under chief of mission authority as a Title 22 FMS training case.[16] While the UAE military no longer has a Marine unit, USMC has designated the UAE-PG as its service counterpart. The PG is designated as the elite and most specialized force of the UAE military and is commanded by Mike Hindmarsh.

Former Emirate forces[edit]

Four Emirates maintained their own forces prior to the unification of the defence forces. Three were theoretically merged into the Union Defence Force in 1976, but in practice remained under emirate control and procured weapons separately for some time after.

In addition, the Sharjah National Guard was formed in 1972. It was essentially a paramilitary force of 500–600 men with Shorland armoured cars. It merged with the Federal Police in 1976.[18]


A UAE Armed Forces Special Ops soldier assigned to Special Operations Task Force-West, patrols villages in Afghanistan on 7 April 2011.
UAEAF crew chief communicating during an engine test at Nellis Air Force Base during Red Flag 11-2 on 2 February 2011
UAE Army BMP-3 conducting live fire desert training

It dispatched an infantry battalion to the United Nations UNOSOM II force in Somalia in 1993, it sent the 35th Mechanised Infantry Battalion to Kosovo, and sent a regiment to Kuwait during the Iraq War. In addition, it helps protect the Persian Gulf and Strait of Hormuz. It is a leading partner in the campaign against terrorism, providing assistance in the military, diplomatic, and financial arenas. The UAE military provides humanitarian assistance to Iraq.

Gulf War[edit]

The UAE sent forces to assist Kuwait during the 1990–1991 Gulf War where several hundred UAE troops participated in the conflict as part of the GCC Peninsula Shield force that advanced into Kuwait City. The US 363rd Tactical Fighter Wing (Provisional) operated from Al Dhafra Air Base in Abu Dhabi, and US ships operated out of UAE ports.[19] The UAE air force also carried out strikes against Iraqi forces. The UAE Armed Forces participated in the coalition with an army battalion along with a squadron of Dassault Mirage 5 and Mirage 2000.[19] 6 Emirati troops were killed in action.[20]

United Nations Operation in Somalia II[edit]

The UAE Armed Forces participated in UNOSOM II which was an intervention launched in March 1993 until March 1995, and committed resources to the United Nations mission.[21][22]


UAE Military field engineers arrived in Lebanon at 8 September 2007 in Beirut for clearing areas of south Lebanon from mines and cluster bombs.

War in Afghanistan[edit]

UAE Armed Forces were deployed in 2003 to Afghanistan mainly to support construction. UAE special forces would establish fire support base around UAE supported projects which included funding tarmac roads, clinics, a Pashtun radio station and a mast provided by Etisalat which provided competition for other mobile networks in Helmand.[23] Their activities include driving into remote and impoverished Afghan villages, distributing aid and sitting down with the village elders to inquire about their needs. They would then fund projects while the contracts went out to local tender. The UAE Armed Forces used their ties to Islam and ability to fund projects to try to reduce the widespread local suspicion of the NATO in Afghanistan.[24]

Saudi led intervention in Yemen[edit]

In 2015, the UAE participated in the Saudi Arabian-led intervention in Yemen to influence the outcome of the Yemeni Civil War (2015–present).[25] On 4 September 2015, 52 UAE soldiers (together with 10 Saudi and 5 Bahraini soldiers) were killed when a Houthi missile hit an ammunition dump at a military base in Ma'rib Governorate,[26] marking the highest death toll on the battlefield in the country's history.[27]

In 2016, during the Battle of Mukalla, the United Arab Emirates Armed Forces liberated the port of Mukalla from AQAP forces in 36 hours after being held by AQAP for more than a year with the US defense secretary James Mattis calling the UAE led operation a model for American troops.[28] However, in 2018, the Associated Press in a report mentioned that the UAE struck deals with AQAP militants by recruiting them against fighting the Houthis and providing them with money. The report continued to state that the United States was aware of Al-Qaeda joining ranks with the UAE and has held off drone strikes against Al-Qaeda.[29] UAE Brigadier General Musallam Al Rashidi responded to the report by stating that Al Qaeda cannot be reasoned with in the first place stating that "There’s no point in negotiating with these guys."[30] The UAE military stated that accusations of allowing AQAP to leave with cash contradicts their primary objective of depriving AQAP of its financial strength.[31] The notion of Al Qaeda joining ranks with UAE Armed Forces and the US holding off drone strikes against Al Qaeda has been thoroughly denied by The Pentagon with Colonel Robert Manning, spokesperson of the Pentagon, calling the news source "patently false".[32] According to The Independent, AQAP activity on social media as well as the number of reported attacks conducted by them has decreased since the Emirati intervention.[31]

On 30 April 2018 the UAE armed forces, as part of the ongoing Saudi-led intervention in Yemen, landed troops on the island of Socotra.[33] The Independent newspaper reported that the UAE has politically annexed the island and built a communications network, as well as conducted census and provided Socotra residents with free healthcare and work permits in Abu Dhabi.[34] Two weeks later on 14 May, Saudi troops were also deployed to the archipelago and a deal was brokered between the United Arab Emirates and Yemen for a joint military training exercise and the return of administrative control of Socotra's airport and seaport to Yemen.[35][36][37]

In June 2018, a major offensive was carried out by the UAE-led troops in Hodeidah.[38]

In June 2019, the UAE announced a partial withdrawal of its troops by reducing Emirati armed forces fighting in Yemen. A senior official from the UAE called the move a "strategic" redeployment.[39] According to a Reuters report, the gulf nation ordered the withdrawal of its troops following security concerns, after tensions with Iran. The UAE stated that it is shifting its focus from Houthi rebels to ISIS and al-Qaeda in Yemen.[40]


In 2015, UAE Air Force dropped bombs on ISIS targets in Syria. One of them was Major Mariyam Al Mansouri, the first female UAE Air Force pilot.[41]

Armed equipment[edit]

Military Expansion[edit]

UAEAF C-17A Globemaster III

In 1989, UAE purchased Scud-B ballistic missiles from North Korea.[42] The UAE went on an expansion drive in 1995, which began with the 1992–93 acquisition of 436 Leclerc tanks and 415 BMP-3 armoured vehicles. It had learned from the Iranian experiences with having a single supplier for its military and has diversified its arms purchases, purchasing weaponry mainly from Russia, the United States, the UK, Ukraine, France, Italy and Germany. It has also taken care to invest in the systems it has purchased and standardise them according to NATO/GCC Specifications.

The equipment purchases was also followed by a programme to increase manpower numbers and Emiratisation programme for the Armed forces. Presently (2005) almost all pilots in the UAE Air Force are UAE nationals, with the restriction of non-nationals to certain positions in the instruction and maintenance divisions of the airforce. More nationals are being trained to fill these ranks, with programmes such as the Technical Trainee Project underway to try to fill the technical jobs in the country.

There has also been a qualitative shift in the Personnel in the armed services, with expert instruction being brought in from around the world, refinement of local military training institutions and the increase in standards across the armed forces.[citation needed] In 2008, the UAE bought MIM-104 Patriot missiles[43] and related radar, support services for the Patriot systems. There has been work concurrently on the Hawk systems, the Patriots predecessor, currently in use by the UAE.

In the last days of 2011, during a war scare with Iran over the Straits of Hormuz, the UAE announced a purchase of US$3.48 billion worth of American missile systems: 2 radar systems, 96 missiles, spare parts and training.[43] The UAE was the first country to acquire the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense System (THAAD). A contract worth $1.96 billion was agreed for Lockheed Martin Corp to supply two Thaad anti-missile batteries.[44]

In November 2019, South Africa blocked supply of arms to United Arab Emirates, Oman, Algeria, and Saudi Arabia following a dispute in the inspection clause of its agreement. According to a report by Reuters, the UAE and the other mentioned countries refused to allow officials from South Africa to inspect their facilities. The dispute arose as the UAE and the other countries refused the inspections, stating it violated their sovereignty. According to the industry, the inspection row puts business at risk and could cause the loss of up to 9,000 jobs at defense firms and supporting industries in South Africa. UAE began firing trials with China, India, and Serbia to replace the South African RDM as preferred supplier of ammunition.[45]

Military industry[edit]

Battle tested Emirati manufactured APC Nimr restored from Operation Decisive Storm on display in IDEX 2017

The UAE has begun to produce a greater amount of military equipment in a bid to reduce foreign dependence and help with national industrialisation. The Abu Dhabi Shipbuilding company (ADSB) produces a range of ships and are a prime contractor in the Baynunah Programme, a programme to design develop and produce 5–6 corvettes customised for operation in the shallow waters of the Persian Gulf. It has also produced and is producing ammunition, military transport vehicles and unmanned aerial vehicles.

In 2007, the first small arm ever produced in UAE, the Caracal pistol, was introduced at IDEX. It became the official sidearm of the UAE armed forces and security forces. The National Guard of Bahrain adopted it shortly thereafter. Jordan ordered an unspecified number of pistol in April, 2008 during SOFEX, the Special Forces Exhibition held in Jordan. UAE and Algeria established on 17 November 2008 a joint committee in order to test the Caracal pistol for further adoption by Algeria.

A joint venture agreement was signed in Abu Dhabi on 28 November 2007 between Tawazun Holding LLC, an investment company established by the Offset Program Bureau (OPB), Al-Jaber Trading Establishment, part of Al-Jaber Group, and Rheinmetall Munitions Systems, to set up the Al-Burkan munition factory at the Zayed Military City in Abu Dhabi.

The OPB signed four Memorandums of Understanding with leading companies from Europe and Singapore at the Paris Eurosatory 2008 defence exhibition on June 20, Rheinmetall Group and Diehl Defence Holding of Germany, Singapore Technologies Engineering (ST Engg), and Thales of France.

Tawazun has also partnered with Saab on radar development.[46]

Military expenditures[edit]

  • 1999: $2,100,000,000 (1.8% of gross domestic product)
  • 2000: $2,600,000,000 (0.8% of gross domestic product)
  • 2005: $3,800,000,000 (1.0% of gross domestic product)
  • 2010: $10,000,000,000


See also[edit]


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  2. ^ IISS 2018, pp. 367
  3. ^ "United Arab Emirates - Defense". export.org. 23 April 2018. Archived from the original on 12 November 2018. Retrieved 11 November 2018.
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  7. ^ a b c "توحيد القوات المسلحة أعظم قرارات دولة الاتحاد". Al Bayan. 1 January 2015.
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  9. ^ Yates (2020). The Evolution of the Armed Forces of the United Arab Emirates. p. 329.
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Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]

Public Domain This article incorporates public domain material from the CIA World Factbook document: "2003 edition".