EDGE had a frenetic fourth anniversary. The group was launched on the eve of the 2019 Dubai air show to consolidate the United Arab Emirates’ state-run military manufacturing assets under one brand and organisation. It spent the days before, during, and just after this year’s event – where its giant exhibit dominated the front of the hall – issuing a stream of announcements on acquisitions, product launches, and partnerships.
Like its neighbour Saudi Arabia, the UAE no longer wants to be simply a consumer of foreign defence equipment. Instead, the small nation intends to use its military spending heft to diversify its energy-dependent economy and create high-skill careers and in-country intellectual property. The eventual aim is to become not just partly self-sufficient in defence, but – like Israel, Singapore and other so-called knowledge economies – a net exporter of equipment and services.
EDGE is its vehicle. The Abu Dhabi-based group has acquired major shareholdings in 12 foreign firms in the past two years. Two of the most recent are Poland’s Flaris, a developer of high-speed personal jets, and Anavia of Switzerland, which specialises in autonomous helicopters. Brazilian missile systems producer SIATT and Estonia’s Milrem Robotics are among others that have joined the portfolio through sizeable equity stakes.
More could be on the cards. “Come and talk to us,” was the message at November’s Dubai show from chairman Faisal Al Bannai to owners of small and medium-sized companies with innovative technologies keen to partner with EDGE. He says EDGE came up with a “roadmap of products that we want to build” shortly after its formation. While its priority is to develop indigenous IP, Al Bannai makes clear that EDGE must bolster its capabilities with key expertise from overseas.
He insists that EDGE will make a rapid assessment of the merit of any potential acquisition. “You could speak to us or you could speak to someone who might just spend three years chit-chatting,” he advises those looking for outside investment in exchange for equity. However, despite the deep pockets of the UAE, Al Bannai cautions that acquisitions will have to be the right fit. “We are not buying for the sake of buying,” he says.
EDGE’s most recent acquisition, however, is not a foreign business, but another state-owned entity. The UAE’s Strategic Development Fund (SDF) became part of EDGE on 22 November, and will “feed into the expansion of EDGE’s portfolio to develop advanced technologies through investments and direct venture partnerships” with a focus on defence and security, aerospace, urban mobility, robotics, and dual-use technology sectors.
One of SDF’s investments had been a 50/50 venture with Russian Helicopters to develop two co-axial light helicopters, the VRT500 and VRT300. However, EDGE says it is terminating the agreement to “assure compliance with international sanctions” following Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022. At the show, SDF announced it had reached an agreement with its former partner to continue developing the helicopter programme independently.
While EDGE’s businesses span naval and ground systems as well as munitions and secure communications, aerospace is a major part of its portfolio. Its subsidiaries include missile houses Al Tariq and Halcon, helicopter training school Horizon, and aerospace structures manufacturer EPI. However, one of the areas where it believes it can set itself apart is in autonomous systems, which come under its ADASI unit.
Flaris – in which EDGE now has a 50% stake – is part of a move to “bring innovative commercial technologies to the forefront of the defence industry”. The company, a spin-off from the privately owned industrial manufacturer Metal Master, has developed the four-seat LAR1 short take-off and landing single-engined jet, which is similar in concept to the Cirrus Vision Jet. It has flown but is not certificated. At Dubai, EDGE displayed an unmanned version, called the Sinyar.
Another recent acquisition – EDGE has taken on a 52% stake – is Anavia. Again, the business, which builds rotorcraft up to 750kg (1,650lb) for reconnaissance, mapping and light cargo, fits neatly into the UAE group’s aspirations in autonomous platforms. At Dubai, EDGE announced that its subsidiary Abu Dhabi Ship Building was incorporating Anavia’s HT-100 model, which has a 6h endurance, on the vessels for one of its key export programmes.
Deals with some of the industry’s biggest names were also high on the agenda at the show. EDGE announced an agreement with Turkish missiles house Roketsan to explore ventures in smart weapons. It will also work with General Atomics Aeronautical Systems to integrate precision-guided munitions (PGM) and guided-glide weapons from EDGE onto the MQ-9B SkyGuardian. It will be the first time the US firm has fitted a non-NATO weapon system on one of its platforms.
Deals with local aircraft manufacturer Calidus to fit the same weapons on its B-250 light attack aircraft, and an order from the UAE armed forces for 100 examples of EDGE’s in-development Reach-S fixed-wing medium altitude, long-endurance unmanned air vehicle were also revealed. So too was the completion of a feasibility study into integrating Al Tariq long-range PGMs onto Hindustan Aeronautics’ Tejas light combat aircraft.
EDGE was keen to stress too that it is diversifying. The X-Range is an island off the Abu Dhabi coast converted to a multi-zoned testing and training centre, with everything from a 3km runway and helicopter missile firing ranges to a beach to practise amphibious assaults and a mock village for special forces training. X-Range will be offered to third-party militaries and manufacturers as well as the UAE’s own defence forces.
And in its first step into the space sector, EDGE will lead a consortium of local entities to work on the payload for the UAE’s first synthetic aperture radar satellites. The first of the constellation of three Sirb-1 satellites is planned to launch in 2026. Along with nurturing a defence sector able to stand on its own feet, the UAE is also determined to join the elite club of space nations with ambitious projects both in earth observation and communications as well as planetary exploration.
As the group enters its fifth year, be prepared for more significant activity from EDGE as it strives towards its objective of becoming a global heavyweight in defence and security.