Georgia's growing defense industry has made its second export sale, this time to the United Arab Emirates.
Georgia's state defense firm, Delta, signed a $32 million agreement to sell "combat modules," or vehicle-mounted gun systems, to the UAE. The deal was finalized in March but it was only announced last week. The first shipment of the weapons was scheduled to be sent to the UAE by the end of May.
This is the second foreign arms sale that Georgia has made since rebooting its defense industry; the first was announced in January, of armored vehicles to Saudi Arabia. Is there a significance to the fact that Georgia's first two weapons sales abroad were to Gulf states? Saudi Arabia is the world's second-largest arms importer, and UAE the fourth, so it's not too surprising that they bought some Georgian arms in addition to all the other weaponry they're scooping up.
But there's more to it than that, said Michael Cecire, a Caucasus expert and non-resident fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute. "Georgia and the Gulf States have had a kind of economic special relationship stretching back to the Saakashvili years, when a number of his government's prestige projects in Western Georgia were financed in large part by Gulf sovereign wealth funds. Even today they continue to be regular sources of FDI. So it seems natural that it would be two Gulf states -- Saudi Arabia and the UAE -- who would be among the first to take a flyer on Delta's new hardware," Cecire said in an email interview with The Bug Pit. "At least for Saudi Arabia, it probably does not hurt that buying Georgian equipment is a way of 'diversifying' away from US suppliers while still obtaining a 'Western' product that is relatively inexpensive and has many US designed parts. Meanwhile, strategic investments such as these may be seen in Riyadh as part of a strategy to preempt growing Iranian pretensions to influence in the South Caucasus."
From Georgia's perspective, too, these export markets make sense, Cecire added: "This may be Delta's comparative advantage going forward: inexpensive arms with moderate levels of sophistication with some Western components from a "quasi-Western" supplier -- appealing to states tight on cash or looking to cheaply diversify but still looking to send or maintain a generic pro-West procurement signal. The Gulf states would seem to fit this target market pretty well."
Meanwhile, despite this export success, Delta's general director was fired shortly before the UAE deal was announced. The cause was a controversy surrounding an anti-hail gun that Delta produced, though Defense Minister Tinatin Khidasheli said that the director, Ucha Dzodzuashvili, may be reinstated if an investigation into the scandal determines he did nothing wrong.