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Tensions in the Gulf region are increasing, and with them the demand for products, systems and services in the field of simulation and training (S and T), which can help to increase operational readiness. US and European military services are particularly in demand here.

The assassination on 3 January 2020 of Quasem Soleimani, General of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard and a high profile member of the Iranian Ayatollah regime, set a chain of events in motion of which the outcome is yet uncertain. Five days after the US drone attack on Soleimani, Iran launched a ballistic missile attack against two US military bases in Iraq in retaliation. Before the attacks took place, Iran had informed the Iraqi government, which passed the information on to the US military. The attacks caused no US casualties, thus avoiding a further escalation of the conflict. Hours following the Iranian missile attacks, a Ukraine International Airlines Boeing 737 crashed shortly after take-off from Teheran International Airport, killing all 176 passengers on board, including at least 130 Iranians. Iranian officials initially said that the plane crashed due to technical problems and denied that the crash of Flight 752 had anything to do with the missile attacks. However, on 11 January, Iran admitted to having shot down the plane as a result of human error, claiming their military mistook the plane for a ‘hostile target’.

In the powder keg that is the Middle East, one action almost immediately triggers a reaction. Having the correct information at the right time can, if combined with a good preparation and hard training, save lives as was demonstrated by the zero casualty outcome of the missile attack on the two US bases in Iraq. The opposite is also true, as demonstrated by the 176 casualties of Flight 752.

The Gulf region (i.e. the Arab countries in the Middle East that border the Persian Gulf) is the world’s primary source of oil and gas, and, therefore, the US and Europe have a long-term interest in the region. Shared security concerns and economic interests have led the US and European countries, like the UK and France, develop special relationships with a number of Gulf states, like Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrein, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Military training is an important part of these relationships. close and effective coordination with key regional partners demonstrate an enduring western security commitment to regional allies. The training of Arab armed forces has to prepare them for assuming a larger share of responsibility in the area of regional security.

Saudi Arabia heads a coalition of forces that wages war against the Houthi movement in Yemen. At the same time, members of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) joined their naval forces with their allied partners to execute missions in the Arabian Gulf and contiguous waters, such as escort missions and mine surveillance assignments. With Iran bordering the whole northern shore of the Persian Gulf, vigilance and preparedness is advised. Attacks on oil or gas transports in the Gulf (as have happened in June 2019) or attacks on oil refineries in Saudi Arabia (as have occurred last September), have a disturbing effect on the region and a potentially disastrous effect on the global economy.

Training and Simulation in High Demand

Tensions are rising in the Gulf region, and so is the demand for S and T products, systems and services that can help to increase the mission readiness of the Gulf states. US and European military services are sought after, not least because the military in many Arab countries is plagued by incompetence, corruption and nepotism (at all levels of society), poor logistical support, limited operational mobility and severe flaws in intelligence, reconnaissance and medical support. Although financial fortunes have been spent to create, among others, effective air force capabilities, the operational results, thus far, are rather disappointing.

The costs and risks that are attached to using real high-tech military equipment for training purposes and mission rehearsal remain very high. Therefore, simulation in defence has become a top priority for governments and the industry. Simulation training devices were first developed for the air force to teach pilots how to fly while remaining on the ground. Now, simulation is also used to practice combat flying and mission rehearsal. The hyper realistic simulators also allow practice with other aircraft and ground assets and are no longer limited to flying personnel. Air traffic controllers, ground based maintenance and emergency personnel can plug in and use simulation to develop and test their skills. It goes without saying that simulation is even more practical for the operators who fly unmanned missions.

However, the use of simulators for training purposes is no longer limited to the air force. Land forces use laser based simulation systems for combat practice, the development and maintenance of driving, shooting and tactical skills. Naval forces usually train their personnel in equipment maintenance on a simulator, while at sea or in a port, above or below the surface. Ship systems can be simulated to train weapon system operators, damage controllers and navigators all at once.

When not in operation or on a mission, the main task of the military is to train personnel for operations or missions to come. Effective training makes the difference between success and failure and is key to minimizing the loss of lives. Web delivered training has become common in the military. To allow large-scale training at an interoperable level, the military developed simulation games. These games allow, among others, for medicine, psychological and information operations, logistics, security and even special forces to participate in the training and to evaluate how each component behaves on the battlefield. They are also very useful for training and testing ‘command and control’ and communications.

Besides training, simulation is commonly used in the design and development phases of major weapons platforms in order to reduce the costs associated with their development. Costly prototypes and hazardous testing can thus be avoided, or at least limited.

The ‘wear and tear’ on major weapons systems and the risk of damaging them, is another reason why simulators are popular with countries that seek sophisticated devices. The extreme temperatures and the omnipresent sand in the region, only reinforces the move from the live platform to the simulator.

The Gulf Cooperation Council as an S and T Market

In 1981, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar and UAE signed an economic agreement that established the GCC. It strove for a customs union, a common market and a common currency (this last initiative was torpedoed by the UAE in 2006). Another important goal was a unified military, the ‘Peninsula Shield Force’, the military arm of the GCC. Through permanent cooperation and joint exercises, the GCC aims to strengthen and unify the existing military strategic concepts and plans among GCC states. Joint exercises are conducted on a permanent basis and for the command centres, annual exercises are held. The GCC also plays an important role in the prospection and acquisition of S and T products and systems.

US and European companies that offer training and simulation products and systems to Gulf states, often work with third parties and local representatives. They provide local labour for installations, training and follow-on services. The primary role of these companies is initial installation support and often includes follow-on contracts for system operation and maintenance, depending on customer requirements. In that way, significant value can be offered to the end user by having knowledgeable and responsible personnel to operate and maintain the systems. Having local logistical support or distributors also provides another advantage: it provides intelligence on upcoming tenders, as well as on the geopolitical climate.

The largest market for training and simulation products and systems in the region is Saudi Arabia. In 2003, the US withdrew the bulk of its forces from that country. However, the US Military Training Mission to Saudi Arabia (active for over 60 years) remains a strong liaison point for the purchase of weapons and S and T equipment and systems. Also based in Eskan Village Air Base, south of the capital city of Riyadh, is the Office of the Programme Manager of the Saudi Arabian National Guard Modernization Programme, and the Office of the Programme Manager of the Facilities Security Force. Joint training exercises improve interoperability, and US military educational courses are regularly attended by officers (and often royals) from the Middle East, allowing the US to influence some of the region’s future leaders. However, the Pentagon recently issued a safety ‘stand-down’ for Saudi military personnel in the US and restricted training for Saudi military students after an incident in December 2019 with a Saudi student at the Naval Air Station Pensacola in Florida that left three people dead and eight injured.

Some examples of S and T cooperation between western companies and the GCC states will illustrate its current and future importance.

Canadian Aviation and Electronics

In May 2018, the Canadian Aviation and Electronics company CAE signed a contract to provide comprehensive constructive simulation solutions for command and staff training and to develop a Joint Multinational Simulation Centre (JMSC) in the Gulf region. At the JMSC, commanders and operators from the Army, Air Force, Navy and Staff Colleges use GlobalSim to conduct military training from the tactical to strategic level of operations. The constructive simulation system prepares commanders, officers and staff to make timely, informed and intelligent decisions across the full spectrum of operations. The JMSC is designed to be used for military training between allied countries and creates a comprehensive federation that offers command leadership a single, realistic, multi-resolution view of the full operational environment.

CAE is quickly expanding its S and T footprint across the region. It has currently six regional defence programmes: RQ1E Predator remotely piloted aircraft training programme for UAE Air Force; UAE Naval Training Centre; UAE Joint Aviation Command 407MRH and UH60M simulators; Joint Multinational Simulation Centre for an unspecified GCC member; Oman Aviation Academy and the KC130J Training Centre for the Kuwait Air Force.
In 2016, CAE was awarded with a contract by the UAE to design, build and maintain a Naval Training Centre and to provide a comprehensive naval training system in order to increase the service fleet’s operational readiness for in-service and future ships. The main NTC in Taweelah should be ready for training in mid-2020 and includes courseware and reconfigurable whole-ship simulators representing multiple classes of naval ships, including bridge, combat information centre and machinery control room training. It should also provide multi-ship/aircraft warfare scenarios for task group training. Warfare missions to be addressed in NTC courses include anti-air warfare, anti-surface warfare, anti-submarine warfare and electronic warfare. Other courses that resonate with the UAE and other GCC navies include escorting and maritime interdiction operations. In the future, distributed training centre sites as well as networking with ships alongside and at sea are also possible options.

Megitt Training Systems Inc.

Megitt Training Systems Inc. (MTSI) is an important supplier of integrated live-fire and simulation weapons training systems for defence forces, law enforcement agencies and commercial shooting range owners around the world. It recently delivered live-fire ranges to the Saudi Arabian National Guard and land forces. Other customersinclude the UAE, Qatar, Oman, Jordan, Bahrain and Egypt.

MTSI is supplying the entire line of both live-fire and virtual training systems to its Middle East customers, ranging from private shooting clubs in Abu Dhabi to large training complexes for the Saudi Ministry of National Guard. The largest customer base to date is Kuwait with deliveries to the Ministry of Defence, Ministry of Interior and National Guard. Most recently, MTSI was commissioned a range renovations at the Ali Al Subah Military College in Kuwait. MTSI, along with its local partner company AIS-Kuwait, did the range design, supplied the ballistic protection, target system and a unique range ventilation system for a semi-enclosed range.

Boeing

Boeing is a major contractor in the Middle East with regard to the procurement of military equipment and systems. Sales projections for military aircraft in the Middle East point at US$225Bn for the period 2019 – 2028. Training is an important part of these contracts and a priority for Boeing. It does not just deliver the products, it also provides the appropriate solutions for its customers and helps them to care for challenges related to attracting personnel in the region. For example, the delivery to the Qatar Emiri Air Force of 36 Boeing F15 Advanced Eagle attack fighters will be accompanied by support services, with a greater focus placed on performance-based logistics and training. The same package was provided for the AH64 Apache helicopter programme. The training is focused on making customers more efficient in support of his requirement. Including training services in the contract, therefore, creates a ‘win-win’ situation for both parties.

Barco

Barco is a global technology leader with headquarters in Belgium that develops networked visualization solutions for the entertainment, enterprise and healthcare markets. Although Barco does not present itself as a defence contractor, its components are highly valued in military S and T programmes. Barco projectors are deployed in training installations in the Middle East, including in Turkey, UAE, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and Israel. The Barco brand is continuing to flourish in this part of the world, since it continuously follows the developments in the region and because it takes part in both smaller and larger programmes through key partners. For example, the Barco F70 projector was selected for a new helicopter programme in the UAE and the F70 was selected for an advanced jet trainer programme in the region as well. Additionally, Barco is involved in Saudi Arabia’s F15 upgrade programme with the F70 Lumen Laser Projector. The new generation of Barco simulation projectors, such as F/FS70 and FL/FS40, are designed to meet the demanding Gulf environment and have a sealed optical engine. This helps to keep a clean optical path with a bright, stable image over time. In addition, accessories –such as pollution, dust or smoke filters and the projector installation – are well protected against the sandy and dusty conditions in the region. From Barco’s regional office in Dubai, an essential care programme is taken care including the regular maintenance and cleaning of the projectors in order to keep the installation in premium condition all times.

A Conflict Driven Market

S and T companies from the US, Europe and beyond are supplying diverse products and services to the Gulf states. They supply regional customers with products, ranging from individual devices up to turnkey training centres and are often partnering with clocal companies to provide technical and other expertise. As host-nation and customer expertise in S and T expands, other efficiencies and returns on investment will be realized. Add to that the ongoing and rising tensions in the region, the increased hostility from and towards Iran, and it is clear that the region will remain a major market for S and T activities for a long time to come.

Joris Verbeurgt