ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates >> In spite of the surging coronavirus pandemic, major arms makers descended today on a convention center in Abu Dhabi, the capital of the United Arab Emirates, hoping to make deals with militaries across the Middle East.
The UAE unveiled $1.36 billion in local and foreign arms deals to supply its forces with everything from South African drones to Serbian artillery. Although the figure surpasses the 2019 show’s opening announcement, defense experts anticipate a drop in military spending this year as the pandemic and slumping global oil prices squeeze budgets in the Persian Gulf.
The biennial trade fair, the International Defense Exhibition and Conference, is Abu Dhabi’s first major in-person event since the outbreak of the virus — a sign of its significance to the oil-rich sheikhdom that has maintained tight movement restrictions in recent months. Zoom wouldn’t suffice for the 70,000 attendees and 900 exhibitors who rely on the largest weapons expo in the Mideast to scout for potential clients and hawk their latest wares, from armored vehicles to ballistic missiles.
Top Emirati officials, including Abu Dhabi’s powerful crown prince, Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, were on hand, wandering between displays of rifles, rockets and bombs.
But with hand sanitizer as ubiquitous as sterile drone displays, the pandemic’s effects remained visible. Significant national pavilions were absent, including the United States, the world’s largest arms exporter.
Big American companies turned up but kept a low profile. Lockheed Martin representatives standing beside models