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25 April 2024

UAE may export unmanned aerial vehicles this year

The UAE is likely to emerge as a centre for manufacture and overhaul of defence equipment. (AFP)

By Shashank Shekhar

The UAE will possibly emerge as an exporter of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) in 2009, the CEO of a Dubai-based company that offers research and consultancy services in military and strategic affairs has said.

The exports will be part of the country's ambition to become self-reliant in the defence sector. Besides, the process will create job opportunities, Riad Kahwaji, CEO of the Institute for Near East and Gulf Military Analysis (Inegma), said.

"This will be part of the country's ambition to diversify its economy. The UAE has several projects in the defence sector. While some of them may hit the markets in 2009, others may come online in 2010," Kahwaji said.

The UAE launched a company to focus specifically on UAVs in February 2007. The company, called Abu Dhabi UAV Investment Company (Audic), aimed to achieve capabilities to design, manufacture and provide services for any type of UAV, fixed wing, and VTOL (vertical take off and landing) vehicles. "The company aims to develop the technology and capability, as well as the design capacity, to meet both the military and commercial aerospace vehicle requirements of its customers and to increase its share in the markets," a market report at the time of company's launch said.

Audic is collaborating with companies from Sweden, Germany and South Korea for its project. "UAE defence equipment manufacturers have been smart enough to partner with companies that specialise in research," Kahwaji said. In the coming years, 'Made in UAE' defence equipment will compete for markets in Africa, the GCC and in the other countries in the Middle East. Besides, the UAE may also emerge as a centre for manufacture and overhaul of defence equipment, Kahwaji said.

In the past two years the UAE has also focused on research and development on various ranges of 'Caracal' pistols. While the products initially were directed to the UAE Armed Forces, regional markets are emerging as part of a long-term strategy.

"There is this notion that weapon dealers from the world flock to the Gulf to sell military equipment. Though the region does import military equipment, serious efforts have been made in the past few years to meet defence requirements in the region from companies operating on home turf. The UAE leads the Gulf in military hardware manufacturing capability. Saudi Arabia has also been involved in this sphere," said Theodore Karasik, Director, Research and Development, at Inegma.

Estimates of the market volumes that UAE companies are targeting are not yet available, Inegma officials said. "The UAE's stature in defence manufacturing in the region remains very high." Karasik said.

UAVs add to UAE's emerging defence exports. The country has begun the export of Caracal pistols, apparently in a "record time" considering the company that manufactures them is only just two years old. On the other hand naval platforms and patrol vehicles have been exported by Abu Dhabi Ship Building (ADSB) for a considerable period.

The UAE established Caracal International, a defence hardware manufacturing company, on the eve of Idex 2007. Idex is an annually organised exhibition of defence equipment and draws exhibitors and buyers from across the world.

Caracal International launched its first products, the Caracal F and Caracal C pistols in 2007. "The company is committed to providing innovative and state-of-the-art products through advanced design ideas and precision manufacturing using sophisticated technologies and materials," Caracal Managing Director Hamad Khalifa Al Neyadi had said on the launch of the company's products. Kahwaji said the company has managed to keep its promises. "Caracal as a company has expanded a great deal in the past two years," he said.

Abu Dhabi Ship Building (ADSB), the largest shipyard in the region, "has exported coast guard vessels to Oman, Qatar and Bahrain. ADSB also has expertise in maintenance and overhaul," Kahwaji said.

ADSB's range of products includes corvette class vessels, missile strike craft and fast patrol boats, Landing craft & Logistic support ships as well as a variety of high speed troop carriers, interceptors and assault boats.