The sixth day of January of each year is considered one of the important dates in the formation and development of the UAE armed forces. On this day, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) celebrates the anniversary of the unification of the Air Force and Air Defense, which is known as “Unity Day”, which coincides with the formation of the first command of the Air Wing in Abu Dhabi Defense Forces in 1974. On this day, the UAE celebrates the long march of achievements of the Air Force and Air Defense in the United Arab Emirates, as well as the achievements of the Armed Forces in general, which since the founding of the State has played a prominent role in protecting its potentials and defending its national security in the face of all dangers and threats.
The celebration of the 46th Unity Day this year is of special importance, given that it coincides with the fiftieth anniversary of the founding of the United Arab Emirates, and the celebration of its golden jubilee was a defining moment, not only because it represents the culmination of a long march of unprecedented achievements that made it a developmental, civilizational and human miracle that many countries and peoples seek and try to imitate and emulate, but also because their wise leadership made this history and celebration a starting point towards a new march of comprehensive renaissance during the next five decades, leading to achieving ambitious goal of making the UAE the number one country in all development and civilization indicators by 2071.
Significance of celebrating
The idea of unity or union is the central idea that formed the consciousness and thought of the founding leader, the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, may God bless him, who believed from the beginning that the fate, survival and development of the Emirates of the “Trucial Coast” is manifested in their unity. So, he did not hesitate to play the roles that would succeed and strengthen the unity between these emirates, and he continued to work with diligence, determination and unrelenting determination until the dream was fulfilled by declaring the establishment of the United Arab Emirates on December 2, 1971, a country that, within a few decades of its blessed establishment, became a model and a role model for all countries of the world how to achieve and consolidate unity and build a model State capable of growth and development and achieving prosperity and welfare.
Within this context, the vision of the late Sheikh Zayed, may God Almighty rest his soul in peace, was decisive and clear in the need to unify the UAE armed forces as a basis for consolidating the federal structure. There was no room for this without the presence of unified armed forces capable of defending the entity of the Union and protecting its gains. The decision to unify the Air Force and Air Defense in 1974, which in turn paved the way for the decision to unify the valiant armed forces on May 6, 1976, an important step that completed the federal structure and strengthened its bases and established its roots, to launch the process of modernization and development that the UAE Armed Forces witnessed until it has reached what it is today in terms of strength, development, efficiency and professionalism, is praised by all.
There is no doubt that the decision to unify the air forces and air defense in particular, and the decision to unify the armed forces in general, has a very important indication in the thought of the wise Emirati leadership, which is that national security is an integral part, and that the unity of the military structure is the strong foundation of the entire federal structure, hence, was the insistence of Sheikh Zayed, may God have mercy on him, to complete the steps of unifying the UAE armed forces and its main branches as a basis for moving towards the process of development, modernization and construction and strengthening the concept of identity and belonging to one land and one people in the face of common challenges.
The Air Force and Air Defense Forces constitute an essential component and a major formation within the formations of the UAE Armed Forces. Today, they have reached a level of development, efficiency and professionalism, which made all praise their efficiency in various battlefields, after witnessing an eventful continuous developments driven by the desire and follow-up of the wise leadership and its constant interest in the continuous development of our armed forces to enable them to protect the homeland and its gains in light of the growing challenges that the region and the world are witnessing.
The beginning of the formation of the Air Force preceded the establishment of the State of the Union, as it was established on the thirteenth of May 1968 in the name of the Air Wing within the formation of the ground forces of the Abu Dhabi Defense Forces, and on the same date the first British-made “Islander” aircraft joined, and on the sixteenth of July 1972 the name of the Air Force was adopted, and on January 6, 1974 the first Air Wing Command was formed in the Abu Dhabi Defense Forces, a date that is celebrated annually as the Unity Day of the Air Force and Air Defense.
As for the air defense, it began in 1974 with the formation of the first air defense group which included a 20-mm towed artillery group, and in 1980 the name was changed to the Air Defense Command, and on 07/10/1975 a 30-mm battery was formed, and on November 6, 1984 it was called the 35 mm anti-aircraft Battalion, after which it was called the Saad bin Abi Waqqas Battalion. On 06/28/1987, the Air Force and the Air Defense Command were merged under one command bearing the name of the Air Force and Air Defense Command.
The Air Force and Air Defense Forces have witnessed a continuous development process that focused on the following areas:
1- Continuous modernization of armament systems by seeking to possess the latest weapon systems in the world. Today, the UAE owns the world’s most modern version of the F-16 fighters known as “Block 60” that has the latest global radar, in addition to Apache and Chinook helicopters and fighter jets. Mirage 2000 9- Developed specifically for the UAE in terms of its combat systems and capabilities. Recently, (early December 2021)
the UAE has signed an agreement with a total value of 16 billion euros to purchase 80 Rafale aircraft of the new generation, as part of a historic deal aimed at replacing 60 Mirage 2000-9 aircraft, and modern systems of unmanned aircraft and associated missiles.
The approval of the United States in November 2020 to sell F-35 fighters and MQ98 weaponized drones to the UAE represents an important development in the process of modernizing the UAE Air Force’s armament, the United States does not agree to sell this type of aircraft, unless it is sure that the buyer country possesses the technological capabilities that enable it to operate them with high efficiency and that it is a major supporter of efforts to maintain regional and international security and stability.
In the field of air defense, the UAE has the latest missile defense systems, including the Hawk air defense system, the American THAAD missile defense system, which the UAE was the first country in the region to acquire, and the advanced version of the missile- defense system, Patriot missile “Pac 3”.
2- Enhancing the combat efficiency of the Air Force and Air Defense Forces, through continuous training and qualification programs that are provided to members of the UAE Armed Forces in this field, as the wise leadership, may God protect it, is keen to provide the best training and qualification opportunities for members of the valiant armed forces. Among the important steps taken in this regard is the establishment of military colleges and institutes concerned with developing national capabilities and competencies in all fields of military action, especially the Air Force. It is a trend that began early in 1977, when the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, may his soul rest in peace, ordered a study to be prepared for the development of the UAE Air Force. In 1980, General, His Highness Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces, joined the Air Force, after graduating from Sandhurst Academy, and took upon himself to carry out this task, where an aviation school was established at Al Dhafra Air Base (Abu Dhabi) in June 1982, to undertake the task of preparing qualified pilots to keep pace with the rapid development in the field of military aviation in its various specializations. In 1984, the school was transformed into an aviation college called the Air College, and it was at that time under the command of the then Major Pilot His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, as he wanted it to be a nucleus for training the candidate students and graduate them as pilot officers who were competent in their work and taught them to work in the service of their country. In 1996, the new buildings of the Air College in Al Ain were opened under the patronage and presence of His Highness Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, President of the State and Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces, may God protect him, and the name of the college was changed to Khalifa bin Zayed Air College. This college has contributed, and still is, to the training of large numbers of pilots and navigator candidates from UAE people and from brotherly countries according to curricula and study programs based on the best, most advanced and modern foundations in the fields of air training globally.
3- Interaction with military schools in various countries of the world in order to enhance the efficiency of Emirati pilots and help them learn about the latest international training and qualification methods. There are many joint training programs conducted by the UAE Air Force with brothers and friends, including but not limited to, the Emirati-Egyptian joint air training “Zayed”, which is carried out regularly with the participation of elements of the UAE and Egyptian air forces and on the territory of the both countries. The UAE Air Force also participates in several joint exercises with the United States, including the Iron Union and Native Fury exercises, both of which are conducted in the UAE. The UAE has also joined in large-scale multilateral exercises hosted by the United States, such as the annual Red Flag aerial exercises in Nevada. Not only that, as the UAE Air Force participates in joint exercises with other partners, such as France, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the United Kingdom.
Air Force and Air Defense… honorable stances
During the past few decades, the Air Force and Air Defense Forces succeeded in proving their efficiency and high combat and professional capabilities at levels praised by the whole world, thanks to the unlimited support of the wise Emirati leadership, and the advanced armament capabilities and training and qualification programs built on the latest scientific and knowledge bases which qualified Emirati officers and soldiers affiliated with the armed forces to deal with the latest technologies in the field of equipment and weapons, which created a modern air force capable of facing challenges, defending and protecting the homeland, and enjoying the highest levels of vigilance, ability and readiness to defend the interests of the country and preserve its security, prosperity and stability.
This professionalism and combat efficiency of the UAE Air Force was evident in many battlefields and combat missions in which they participated, as these forces participated with high efficiency in the efforts to combat terrorism; they fought against ISIS as part of the international coalition against the organization, as well as against Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, in Yemen. These forces also showed a high degree of professionalism and efficiency during the recent war in Yemen that the United Arab Emirates fought in support of legitimacy and support for the Arab brothers, and they became a role model in professionalism and high combat professionalism, according to the testimony of all those who cooperated with them.
The unification of the Air Force and Air Defense Forces or the Unity Day that the United Arab Emirates celebrates today is one of the glorious days of the homeland. It is an important occasion, not only to celebrate the honorable achievements of our Air Force and Air Defense Forces and the level of the development they have reached, which has become universally appreciated, but also to celebrate our valiant armed forces with all their branches, commanders, officers and soldiers. These forces are the protective fence for the Emirates, its interests and its soil, and they are the strong hand that confronts anyone who has intentions to harm this country or its interests. Of course, these forces would not have reached this level of professionalism and development without the unlimited support of the wise Emirati leadership, since the tenure of the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, may his soul rest in peace, who worked to unify these forces to be a strong support for the structure of the solid Union , till the current wise leadership, represented by His Highness Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, UAE President and Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces, may God protect him, His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, UAE Vice President and Prime Minister and Ruler of Dubai, may God protect him, and His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces, who worked diligently, persistently and closely to provide everything that would enhance the strength, efficiency and professionalism of our valiant armed forces.
With the start of the UAE’s new fifties and its ambitious launch towards the future, the UAE armed forces are strongly supportive of this legitimate Emirati ambition towards occupying the first place in the world in all global development indicators, pledging the Emirati people and the wise leadership to be at the level of competence and professionalism that allows them to protect and support the blessed march of renaissance and Union in order to achieve its goal of being the UAE number one in the world.
Thanks to the directives of the wise leadership, the Air Force and Air Defense have become enjoying the utmost vigilance, ability and readiness to defend the homeland and preserve its security, prosperity and stability. .
The United Arab Emirates has worked over the past fifty years to develop its armed forces and provide them with the latest weapons and equipment on the international scene, in addition to the great development that has occurred in the UAE military industries, so that these industries have become respected and appreciated on the regional and international arena, due to their efficiency and the seriousness of the State in supporting them, paying attention to them and planning for them on the medium and long term, as well as going into effective partnerships with prominent international companies in the field of armaments at the regional and global levels.
Since the unification of our armed forces on May 6, 1976, these forces have represented the fortress of the nation, embodying its established orientations and principles in championing right and supporting peace and stability in the region and the world, and one of the important tools for implementing the objectives and principles of its foreign policy.
By: Dr. Fattouh Haykal (Research Director – TRENDS Research and Advisory)