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New holding company EDGE aims to be a major technological disruptor within the global defence sector

From robot soldiers to hypersonic jets: Abu Dhabi's aim to push the limits of modern warfare

Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan launched EDGE advanced defence conglomerate. Seen with EDGE CEO and managing director Faisal Al Bannai.

Quantum robotic soldiers, advanced radar systems, smart drones, electromagnet weapons and hypersonic military aircraft that can strike anywhere in the world within two hours are just some of the futuristic technological advances a new UAE government-backed defence conglomerate launched in Abu Dhabi on Tuesday is aiming to inspire.

EDGE is a new holding company resulting from the consolidation of 25 defence technology firms, including subsidiaries from the Emirates Defence Industries Company (EDIC), Emirates Advanced Investments Group (EAIG), Tawazun Holding, and other independent organisations.

Launched by Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, the new company currently employs around 12,000 people and generates revenue of $5 billion, but it has ambitious plans to expand this in the near the future.

It will have five core clusters - Platforms & Systems, Missiles & Weapons, Cyber Defence, Electronic Warfare & Intelligence and Mission Support – and has been mandated to address the growing defence and technological threats evident in the modern world.

“Our political, economic and social value systems, as well as critical infrastructure, are all at risk from the menace of physical and online attack and manipulation,” delegates at the launch event in Abu Dhabi were told in an opening presentation.

Battles in cyberspace

The new conglomerate will be led by CEO and managing director Faisal Al Bannai, the founder of Abu Dhabi-based global cyber security firm DarkMatter Group and also founder of Axiom Telecom, the largest distributor of mobile devices in the Middle East.

“We are increasingly engaged in a hybrid of warfare. Boots on the ground are no longer enough to win… Battles are found in cyberspace,” Al Banni said in a speech at the launch to EDGE.

“While commercial players are constantly innovating, evolving and delivering good products to market, the defence sector is yet to embrace the same speed and pace, why should this be?” he asked.

“EDGE is a new kind of defence company. Our mission is simple: bring advanced technologies and services to the market with great speed and with great efficiency,” he added.

He said the drone attacks on Saudi Aramco’s facilities in September were carried out by commercial drones easily available on the market to buy for around $10,000.

“Access to technology has blurred the lines between commercial and military spheres,” he believed, making potential threats “equal if not greater than ever before”.

Miltary spend

The launch of EDGE comes as it was reported in September that Middle Eastern defence spending will reach $100 billion in 2019, led predominantly by Saudi Arabia and the UAE.

Middle East defence spending forecast to hit $100bn in 2019

New figures revealed ahead of Dubai Airshow when world's leading defence firms will be displaying their latest innovations

Out of the top 10 defence spending nations per capita, five are in the Middle East as are nine of the top 15 defence budgets per GDP.

On average, Middle Eastern countries spend 13 percent of their fiscal budgets on defence annually with Oman and Saudi Arabia spending close to 20 percent and 30 percent respectively.

According to a report by Jane’s by IHS Markit, Saudi Arabia’s 2019 defence budget is $51 billion, making it the third largest military spending nation in the world.

The figures come ahead of the Dubai Airshow taking place later this month at Dubai World Central, where defence contractors such as Lockheed Martin will use the event to showcase the latest technological advances within the defence sector.

“The next generation of advanced materials, autonomous systems, human-machine collaboration and cyber-hardened platforms plus mission systems all have the potential to create critical solutions that shape our industry for decades to come,” Bob Harward, Middle East chief executive of Lockheed Martin, was quoted as saying in September.

“We’ve had a strong relationship with the UAE for four decades, initially supporting defence programs like the C-130 Hercules cargo aircraft, F-16 fighter, PAC-3 missile interceptor and THAAD anti-ballistic missile system—all technology solutions to help the UAE protect their citizens,” he added.

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