Competitors Compete For The Gulf’s Expanding Uav Market


The United States sparked interest in uninhabited aircraft (UAVs) within the Gulf region through the widespread utilization of these systems in the early 2000s. 

However, Washington’s concerns about technology transfer led to Chinese and Turkish exports and, in recent times, solutions developed by the home country.

Following a string of purchases, a few Gulf states have now become the top purchasers of UAVs. In particular, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) has made orders for approximately 500 UAVs in the last few years. International Golden Group and ADASI, UAE defense conglomerate EDGE affiliates, are also on contract to supply unmanned systems.

Saudi Arabia placed the largest-ever order in terms of value for UAVs from Turkey last year in a deal worth about USD 3 billion. In addition, the number of Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) members purchasing UAVs is growing. 

In the past, only the UAE and Saudi Arabia made purchases; however, since then, Kuwait, Oman, and Qatar have also placed orders for Turkish and Chinese UAVs, even though in smaller quantities.

Buy from Beijing

US insistence on not sharing the latest UAV technology, prompted partly by concerns over compromising its Missile Technology Control Regime, hindered it from supplying the increasing demand from GCC countries. 

China has filled the gap and, in the early 2010s, was the most dominant supplier, with groundbreaking deals, such as the purchase of Chengdu Wing Loong I to the UAE in 2010 and the same model for Saudi Arabia a few years after. 

China took advantage of this outstanding success by extending UAV sales to both countries and Oman.

However, the Gulf states have recently discovered a new supplier of choice: Turkiye. The move was motivated by discontent with the use of these Chinese equipment. Iraq is a prime example. 

Turkiye also benefited from its capacity to supply equipment quickly. Bayraktar’s delivery of TB2 equipment to the UAE began in the months following the date of placing the order. Kuwait, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia also purchase from Turkiye.


Not material with the import of systems and equipment, the UAE and Saudi Arabia have ramped up the production and design of their UAVs. Initial efforts are aimed at meeting the needs of their own forces, but both countries have an interest in securing orders for exports.

UAE’s EDGE Group is in the final stage of development for its Reach-S UAV, a medium-altitude extended endurance (MALE) system capable of being equipped. 

After having completed several flight tests and weapons-release operations, a bigger version, Reach-M, was revealed in 2023 at the Dubai Airshow. EDGE stated that it plans to end flight testing in 2024. 

Saudi Arabia is pursuing similar domestic UAV development and manufacturing initiatives through companies like Unmanned X, Serb, and INTRA Defense Technologies. INTRA is working on the Samoom, a MALE with a 40-hour endurance. 

A company official has stated that the Samoom will be available to the kingdom’s military at 2025’s end. 

INTRA has launched a UAV manufacturing facility in Riyadh that has a capacity of around 120 planes per year. Saudi Arabia also aims to license the production of Turkish Akinci, adequate to Walid Abukhaled, the chief executive officer of the state-owned Saudi Arabia Military Industries (SAMI). 

SAMI is working with Turkish design firm Baykar to test the production line. 

SAMI has sent 300 Saudi employees to collaborate with Baykar to increase the company’s abilities base.

Flight Trajectory

Despite local efforts, Gulf nations will likely continue purchasing equipment from outside for various reasons, including maintaining the strategic relationship.

The US may participate in the market, which would make it more contested. Washington has relaxed its strict policy that limited its export sales of UAVs. One example of this was the decision to permit sales of General Atomics MQ-9B UAVs to India. 

This is an achievement that the US is looking to build upon in a market that is becoming increasingly competitive.

Washington also approved the sale of MQ-9B UAVs in the UAE and related arms in a deal worth more than USD 3 billion. 

Completing the sale has been slow and hasn’t been done over three years later, suggesting that the US getting a significant UAV export for the Gulf region is a bumpy deal.

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