The rulers of the United Arab Emirates are striving to make their country's economy free from dependence on oil exports by 2030.

The UAE already has global ambitions to become a greater force for good. It is supporting the United Nations, providing humanitarian and peacekeeping capabilities and working more closely with other Gulf Cooperation Council states, as well as with allies in Europe and elsewhere. But while it has previously relied on those countries, the U.S. and to some extent Russia for its military equipment, there are signs that the UAE is becoming increasingly more capable and self-reliant with some critical pieces of its armory.

During the IDEX 2013 defense exhibition in mid-February, the UAE armed forces signed deals worth 14 billion UAE dirhams ($3.81 billion) for new vehicles, support, ammunition, guns and, perhaps most notably, the purchase of unarmed Predator UAVs from General Atomics.

But as the contracts were announced each day by an armed forces spokesman, it became increasingly apparent that many of them were awarded to local businesses. Indeed, around two-thirds of the contracts were signed with UAE-based entities, including established defense holding companies such as Tawazun, Mubadala, and the International Golden Group (IGG). While some of the deals were carried out by a UAE-based intermediary—such as IGG's purchase of the Predators on behalf of the UAE armed forces—many more were for systems produced in the country. Caracal, a Tawazun-owned armaments company, walked away with significant contracts for light arms and ammunition, while another Tawazun-owned company, Nimr Automotive, secured orders for 1,800 various indigenous armored vehicles.

Local companies have been able to meet the UAE's unique and sometimes eyebrow-raising requirements with developments such as the Jobaria Defense Systems-made Multiple Cradle Launcher, an extraordinary, multiple-launch rocket system capable of firing 240 unguided artillery rockets in 2 min. The system, displayed at IDEX for the first time, was developed indigenously in three years and is in service with the UAE army.

The UAE is increasingly eager to develop its skills in key areas of defense operations and is willing to cooperate with some less likely partners to deliver capabilities it lacks. One of the most interesting is a partnership with Serbian defense company Yugoimport SDPR, which signed a €200 million ($267 million) deal with UAE-based Emirates Advanced Research and Technology Holding (Earth) during the show. The contract includes the development of a ground-launched, wire-guided coastal defense missile fitted with a TV seeker.

Officials from the UAE-based company told Aviation Week that the weapon would provide a useful capability against the small ship threat in the region, while TV guidance guarantees target identification before the missile strikes. Managers also noted that there are few weapons available with these specifications that meet local requirements, and that the deal with Yugoimport would help to further the system's development.

But having a UAE partner is no guarantee of success. It has long been believed that the Talon laser-guided rocket, developed jointly by Raytheon and Emirates Advanced Investments (EAI), would be selected for the UAE armed forces. Although the system is ready for production, it has not been selected. Instead, to meet what is understood to be an urgent operational requirement, the UAE chose the Roketsan Cirit guided rocket, making the country the first export customer for the system.

However, the strength of local businesses in high-tech capabilities will continue to be dependent on Western companies, at least in the medium-term. That will come though the development of offsets and the creation of new skills and competencies in critical systems—such as radar—with the forming of local companies like Abu Dhabi Advanced Radar Systems (Adars), created by Saab and Tawazun. Formed to support Saab radars already in-country, the company will eventually develop its own product, probably a ground-based AESA radar system, in the next five years.

BAE Systems has already done some of the groundwork as it leads the push to sell the Eurofighter Typhoon to the UAE air force. As part of an industrialization plan being put together by BAE Systems ahead of a possible sale, the company approached several potential suppliers to examine the capabilities available in the country. To demonstrate its competencies, Tawazun Precision Industries (TPI), using plans provided by BAE, produced single examples of aluminum structural components for the aircraft. According to BAE Systems officials, Tawazun also offered to produce examples of titanium parts used in the firewall section of the airframe between the two EJ200 engines.