Drones, robots, remote-controlled machine guns: the United Arab Emirates, targets of drone attacks by Yemeni rebels, are investing heavily in remote-controlled defense systems to counter these “smart” weapons.
Large black drones with the orange logo of the Emirati weapons consortium EDGE were on display alongside other “smart” weapons at the Unmanned Defense Systems Exhibition (UMEX) in Abu Dhabi from Monday to Wednesday.
The exhibition follows attacks by Yemeni Houthi rebels: On January 17, three people died in a drone and rocket attack on oil facilities in Abu Dhabi. She was followed by two more who were thwarted.
The Emirates are part of a Saudi-led military coalition that has supported Yemen’s war against the Houthis since 2015.
“Autonomous systems are becoming more common,” Miles Chambers, director of international business development at EDGE, told AFP. “We are investing heavily in the development of autonomous defense systems (…) in electronic warfare and in intelligent munitions. Those are our three pillars.”
– 360 degrees –
Based in Abu Dhabi, EDGE brings together 25 Emirati companies. In 2020, arms sales by the consortium formed three years ago reached $4.8 billion, almost all to the Emirates government.
In the same year, the group ranked 23rd among the 100 largest arms and military services producers in the world, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.
The most lucrative contracts include nearly $4 billion worth of military aircraft maintenance and $880 million in guided munitions supplies.
On Tuesday, EDGE unveiled a vehicle-mounted remote-controlled assault rifle that rotates 360 degrees and features thermal imaging cameras and a 50-centimetre laser rangefinder for targets more than two kilometers away.
The use of drones and other guided missiles is becoming more and more common.
In 2021, the US and Israel accused Iran of attacking a ship off the coast of Oman. Two crew members were killed.
That same year, Iran accused Israel of murdering one of its nuclear scientists with a remote-controlled machine gun mounted on a pickup truck.
And in November 2021, Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kazimi survived an explosives-laden drone attack on his home in Baghdad.
– “Competitive” –
But the drones are mainly used by the Houthis. According to the military coalition figures released in December, they have launched more than 850 drones and fired 400 ballistic missiles at neighboring Saudi Arabia since 2015, killing 59 civilians.
The coalition conducted 401 airstrikes in Yemen in January alone, according to the Yemen Data Project, an independent monitor that also reported that around 9,000 Yemeni civilians have been killed in airstrikes since 2015.
According to Ahmed Al Mazrouei, owner of an Emirati company that mainly develops four-wheel drive vehicles and people carriers, “the challenges are important because they drive us to develop.”
“The goal is to have more systems and more technology in the next ten years” and to be “globally competitive”.
In 2021, EDGE signed several agreements with foreign partners, including Americans Lockheed Martin and Raytheon and Brazilian Embraer, according to Khalid Al-Breiki, director of one of the group’s five clusters.
On Monday, the UAE Ministry of Defense signed three deals with domestic and international companies totaling over $178.2 million, including a sale of drone systems to Emirates-based International Golden Group.
The normalization of relations between the Emirates and Israel in 2020 has also opened up new opportunities. It allowed the Jewish state to participate in UMEX for the first time.