First joint China-UAE military drill to take place in August

Under "Falcon Shield 2023," UAE and China will conduct their first joint military training between the nations' air forces.
Christopher McFadden
Could this signal closer ties between the two nations?

Oleksii Liskonih/iStock 

Various news outlets have reported that the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and China will conduct a joint military aerial training exercise in August.

Called "Falcon Shield 2023," the exercises will take place in China’s northwestern Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region. Little information is publically available on the scale of either nation's participation, not the scope of the exercise, but this is an interesting development nonetheless.

First China-UAE collaboration

This news comes following official announcements from the Chinese defense ministry on Monday, July 31. The exercise is widely seen as the next logical step in China's ambitions to forge closer economic and military links with Middle Eastern nations like the UAE. It also follows the first Arab-China summit in December 2022. This summit saw the 21 members of the Arab League and Beijing agreeing to more cooperation between their militaries, including on international peacekeeping, maritime security, and combined exercises and training.

“This is the first joint training between both air forces, aiming to deepen pragmatic exchanges and cooperation between the two militaries and enhance mutual understanding and trust," the statement explained.

Despite the paucity of details, it is known that the UAE military utilizes various US weapons and equipment, including the Thaad anti-missile system and AH-64 Apache attack helicopters. As for China-made arms, the main ones in use by the UAE are combat drones like Wing Loong 1 and Wing Loong 2. These drones are produced by Chengdu Aircraft Industry Group, an aerospace company indirectly owned by the Chinese government.

According to analysts interviewed by Breaking Defense, it is challenging to determine the implications of the joint exercise on the China-UAE relationship. However, it is difficult to ignore the possibility that it was intended as a message to the United States, even if the Chinese only made the announcement.

A clear message

“This is a rather unfortunate development as the UAE seems to try to demonstrate to the US it has options. But it is highly likely that there is less here than meets the eye,” David Des Roches, associate professor at the Near East South Asia Center for Security Studies, told Breaking Defense.

“By joining an exercise with China, the UAE is delivering the second message to the US. UAE is assuring that it still has choices in managing [its] security the best way it can think of,” a Retired Kuwaiti Colonel told Breaking Defense. According to him, the "first message" was in May, when the UAE announced its withdrawal from a maritime arrangement led by the US.

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