Russia: Russia is seeking to sign up the United Arab Emirates (UAE) as a customer for its Global Navigation Satellite System (GLONASS) positioning, navigation, and timing (PNT) satellite navigation constellation, according to a report published by the official Russian news agency, TASS.
The proposal was apparently made to H.H. Sheikh Mohammed Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Vice President of the UAE, by Russia’s Minister of Industry and Trade, Denis Manturov, during a visit to Abu Dhabi on November 26, 2017.
After his meeting with the Crown Prince, Manturov was quoted by TASS as saying, “The crown prince agreed to think about the offer from the Navigation and Information Systems cellular operator on cooperation in the sphere of the use of Russian Glonass satellite navigation technologies in the interests of the UAE’s socio-economic development.”
Both Russia and the UAE have been engaged in space cooperation for several years now, to include the possibility of Emirati astronauts being trained in Russia. This latest offer by Russia, however, seems to be part of a broader effort by both Abu Dhabi and Moscow to deepen and broaden strategic and economic ties.
For Abu Dhabi, strengthening ties with Russia through subscribing to GLONASS services is a way of diversifying its strategic reliance on the United States at a time when the influence of Moscow in the Middle East is at a high while the influence of the United States is perceived to be waning.
For Moscow, on the other hand, courting Emirati – and other Gulf country – clients and investments could potentially boost an ailing Russian economy as well as provide a strategic opportunity to further diminish U.S. influence in the Persian Gulf.
As an example of these strengthening ties, both Russia and the UAE are cooperating through the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) to drive up oil prices, and are also in discussions to possibly develop jointly a variant of the SU-35 fighter jet, though a number of commentators have suggested that these discussions are a gambit by Abu Dhabi to get the U.S. to offer the UAE access to its stealthy F-35 fighter jet.
From a technical standpoint it would not be unusual for the UAE to subscribe to GLONASS services as a means to diversify its civil and commercial reliance on the U.S. Global Positioning System (GPS) space-based PNT system, though it is unlikely at this time that the UAE Armed Forces would use GLONASS for its precision strike and missile defence capabilities given that these are U.S. and European systems.
China is already offering its Beidou space-based PNT system in the Middle East, with India’s NAVIC and Europe’s Galileo soon to come online as well. By accessing all of these PNT services the UAE and other Gulf states stand to benefit from a diversity of PNT services that in turn can increase resiliency, accuracy, and performance.