UAE invests heavily in unmanned weapons after drone attacks

ABU DHABI: The United Arab Emirates is plowing money into drones, robots and other unmanned weaponry as autonomous warfare becomes more and more widespread — including in attacks on the Gulf country by Yemeni rebels.

Large, black drones with the orange logo of EDGE, the UAE’s arms consortium, were on display at the Unmanned Systems Exhibition (UMEX), along with remote-controlled machineguns and other “smart” weapons.

The exhibition comes at a time of growing unmanned attacks around the region, including the Jan 17 drone-and-missile assault by Yemen rebels that killed three oil workers in Abu Dhabi, the first in a series of similar incidents.

EDGE, an Abu Dhabi-based defense consortium that groups 25 Emirati firms, was formed three years ago but reached an estimated $4.8 billion in arms sales in 2020 — nearly all of them to the UAE government.

The group was ranked 23rd among the 100 top arms-producing and military services around the globe in 2020, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.

The UAE is part of the Saudi-led coalition that has been fighting Yemen’s Houthi rebels since 2015. Although it withdrew ground troops in 2019, it remains a key player in the grinding conflict.

EDGE’s most lucrative deals have included maintenance of military jets, worth almost $4 billion, as well as providing guided munitions at $880 million.

On Tuesday, it unveiled a vehicle-mounted remote-controlled assault rifle that can swivel 360 degrees and has thermal imaging and a laser range finder accurate to 50 centimeters for targets more than two kilometers away.

On Monday, the UAE defense ministry signed three deals with domestic and international companies with a total value of more than $178.2m), including a sale of drone systems to UAE-based International Golden Group.

Ahmed Al Mazrouei, the owner of an Emirati company that mainly develops four-wheel-drive vehicles and personnel carriers, said the UAE defense industry was ready to “step up” following the attacks on Abu Dhabi.

“The challenges are important because they push us to develop ourselves in order to meet those challenges,” he said.

“Our goal is to have more systems and more tech” in the next 10 years, Mazrouei added. “This is an Emirati-made production… and we want to compete globally.”

EDGE has signed multiple deals with foreign partners, including US firms Lockheed Martin and Raytheon, and Brazil’s Embraer, Khalid Al Breiki, who heads one of EDGE’s five clusters, said at last year’s Dubai Airshow.

The establishment of diplomatic relations with Israel in 2020 has also opened up new opportunities.

The fifth edition of UMEX is the first to include Israel, one of seven newcomers among the 26 countries taking part.

The use of drones and other unmanned weapons is increasingly common.

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