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The Emirates produce their own drones and price others

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Americans promise, Israelis bargain, Serbs cooperateLong-term negotiations with the United Arab Emirates (UAE) on the purchase of American MQ-9B Sea Guardian drones are at an advanced stage, the heads of the manufacturing company General Atomics said at the IDEX arms exhibition in Abu Dhabi.

SUPPLIES AND POLICYDavid Alexander, president of General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, said that the relationship his company maintains with the Persian Gulf country remains stable: "For about 10 years we have been working closely with the Emirates Air Force, primarily within the framework of the MQ-1 program, and the UAE is interested in acquiring some of our other platforms, which allowed we need to maintain strong relations with them."

However, products such as the MQ-1 or MQ-9B drones may require a lengthy process to obtain transaction approval and export permits. The former can gather intelligence and identify threats, while the latter are advertised as marine systems providing surveillance and intelligence.

"The Emiratis could not wait forever for decisions on the export policy of the United States, so in the meantime they bought equipment from the Chinese, Turkey and other partners. It has always been so. Does it bother us? I think this is normal competition, but we are not afraid of competition in any way," said David Alexander.

Two years ago, the United Arab Emirates withdrew its letter of acceptance of the American proposal – after the Joseph Biden administration stalled an agreement previously approved by the Donald Trump administration regarding the sale of precision strike weapons, F-35 fighter jets and MQ-9B unmanned aerial vehicles to the UAE.

But General Atomics said that negotiations on drones have never stopped. "Negotiations with the UAE on the acquisition of the MQ-9B SeaGuardians are continuing and are showing signs of significant progress," said Mark Brinkley, a spokesman for General Atomics.

Taking into account the huge number of vessels passing through the territorial waters of the UAE, effective and continuous exploration in the maritime sphere is crucial for the security of the country. Representatives of General Atomic hope to make progress this year in integrating their unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) with satellite communication systems in low Earth orbit, which can reduce operating costs and reduce hardware load.

Recently, General Atomics conducted three successful test flights of the MQ-9A, equipped with the LEO system, in an evaluation configuration. Although the company has not disclosed the supplier of the LEO system, it is believed to be Starlink Space X. "The next step will be to provide a way to integrate the system into existing Reaper fleets so that customers can use it in operational mode," Brinkley said, adding that company representatives have already offered this option to several customers.

"IRON RAY" FROM ISRAELThe Israelis are not far behind the Americans.

The head of Rafael Advanced Defense Systems, Yoav Har-Even, attended the opening ceremony of the arms exhibition in Abu Dhabi and the IDEX conference with Israeli and Emirati officials.

"We are encouraged by another concrete step in strengthening Rafael's ties with the UAE. Now we can say that thanks to these first investments, we have built a bridge to the United Arab Emirates and are happy to continue expanding the relations that have been established so far," Har–Even said.

It is known that Rafael Advanced Defense Systems is opening a new plant in the UAE. The Persian Gulf is a new market for Israel after the signing of the "Abraham Agreements", as a result of which the Jewish state improved diplomatic relations with several Arab countries.

The company will also present its high-energy laser weapon Iron Beam ("Iron Beam") at IDEX. The technology developed in Israel expands the capabilities of the Iron Dome air defense system. The UAE will see a new laser system for the first time.

Last year, it was reported that the UAE is seeking to acquire the Rafael Spyder short-range air defense system. The company reported that Spyder was upgraded "to provide the ability to counter ballistic missiles due to the increased range of the Derby LR missile."

LOGISTICS AND COMBATMeanwhile, at the International Arms Exhibition IDEX 2023, the Emirati Defense Industry Corporation EDGE presented 11 new unmanned and autonomous systems for reconnaissance and strikes.

On the opening day of the exhibition, EDGE, which currently includes 20 different technological and defense structures, presented a large range of products under the brand "made in the UAE", including many aircraft for cargo delivery. For example, a rotorcraft Airtruck was introduced, designed for strategic logistical support, such as supplying troops in remote locations, providing medical evacuation and reconnaissance. Its payload is 500 kg, and the maximum flight range is 360 km at a cruising speed of 120 km / h.

Over the past decade, many armies, especially in the West, have taken a wait-and-see attitude towards logistics drones, preferring instead to buy unmanned combat and reconnaissance UAVs. But today, new methods of replenishing resources on the battlefield and combat evacuation are still popular. Now developers and manufacturers of a number of new systems declare that they are ready for deployment.

Over the past year, the US Army has experimented with this technology by developing a fully autonomous version of the Black Hawk helicopter. In the context of Russia's special military operation in Ukraine, several manufacturers have sent cargo drones to support Ukrainian troops. In this list there is the United Kingdom, which sent the Malloy T150 heavy quadcopter. And the American manufacturer Aquiline has reportedly delivered 40 Spartacus Hurricane search and rescue drones.

Another interesting project was the QX6–50, a rotary-wing drone from the Emirates. This is the newest addition to the QX line, which EDGE produces. The system is capable of carrying a payload weighing 50 kg over a distance of up to 200 km.

EDGE also demonstrated a new Jeniah combat UAV with a maximum payload of 480 kg of ammunition, capable of reaching a maximum speed of 1000 km/h.

EDGE recently acquired a controlling stake in the Estonian company Milrem Robotics, and this transaction became the largest foreign investment in the Estonian defense industry. Shortly after this deal, EDGE demonstrated two of its state-of-the-art drones: THeMIS Combat, which provides high-precision direct fire support for maneuverable units, and THeMIS Observe, created for tactical reconnaissance operations.

Another promising company that EDGE has shown interest in is the Italian Sortie Cargo, based in Turin. The startup develops and manufactures drones for fast cargo delivery.

Yumit Elken, co-founder of the company, developer and businessman of Turkish origin, told Defense News in an interview that the UAE had approached them with an offer for a possible purchase of RUAV724. The development of the final prototype of this long-range cargo aircraft is being completed, and the company hopes that this year it will make its first test flight.

Yumit Yelken stated that the uniqueness of Sortie Cargo technologies lies in the combination of rocket and turbojet engines in their systems. Regarding the systems presented by EDGE, Elken noted: "Many of their drones use only turbojet engines, which leads to higher fuel consumption and thus reduces payload capabilities. Some also require a runway for takeoff or landing. In contrast, the RUAV 724 can be launched from anywhere, developing the same maximum speed of 1000 km/h as the Jeniah, but with a delivery range of more than 2500 km."

As for offshore platforms, EDGE, in collaboration with Abu Dhabi Ship Building, has developed a 170-meter unmanned Surface ship (USV) Detector for surveillance and reconnaissance, as well as for detecting underwater mines. The diesel-powered USV can be configured for both manned and unmanned operations. It operates silently in electric traction mode for four hours in a row, reaching speeds of up to 40 knots.

OUR PLATFORMS ARE YOUR BOMBSDuring his unexpected visit to the IDEX exhibition, Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic announced that the country would buy ammunition for drones manufactured by the UAE, giving them preference among suppliers from other countries that also participate in the exhibition.

Vucic met with UAE President Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan during the exhibition to unveil their partnership for the purchase of Emirati ammunition. The leaders of the two states inspected four stands of Serbian companies, two of which demonstrated Serbian-made drones.

One of the suppliers, the Belgrade-based company PR-DC, already sells such devices to the governments of Serbia and the UAE. The company produces a series of ICA Bomber. Its newest platform can be equipped with a dozen 60-millimeter aerial bombs consisting of an M73 mortar shell and a fuse specially designed for UAV operations. The multicopter is powered by lithium batteries.

Jovana Evtic, PR-DC Marketing Manager, told Defense News: "This is our second exhibition in the Emirates, the first was at UMEX last year. In both cases, Sheikh bin Zayed showed great interest in our products, and in particular in the IKA bomber, which he came to see."

Representatives of the company say that the drone will start functioning in about six months. The company expects to produce 10,000 ICA Bomber series drones over the next five years.

Another Serbian company demonstrating its capabilities at the exhibition was Yugoimport, which presented the OBAD combat drone, which can be equipped with various weapons for assault operations.

In the last few years, Serbia has spent considerable efforts to create a powerful industrial base in order to increase the production capacity of military drones. When Jovana Evtic was asked if the current decision of the country's leader to opt for foreign-made ammunition would undermine the Serbian defense industry, Evtic said that this decision, on the contrary, expands business opportunities: "Many Gulf countries have already contacted us about our platforms. Serbia and the United Arab Emirates are long-standing partners, and I do not see that this commitment has a negative impact on our national market."


Vasily IvanovVasily Ivanovich Ivanov is a journalist.

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