The UAE-made Caracal handgun has made its first official entry into the United States eight years after UAE Armed Forces and European small-arms designers teamed up to create the new semi-automatic pistol.
In mid-August, officials with Waffen Werks USA took delivery of a shipment containing 5,000 Caracal nine-millimetre handguns to be distributed throughout the US more than a year after Caracal received an export licence from the US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF).
The pistols could fetch $720 (Dh2,650) apiece in North America, but will likely sell for higher in other international markets.
The US shipment is estimated to be worth around $3 million and is the latest international venture for a company officially incorporated three years ago as a subsidiary of Tawazun Holding of the Offset Programme Bureau in Abu Dhabi.
Named after the Caracal desert cat for agility and speed, the pistols are the only small arms manufactured in the Gulf — the polymer framed handguns are mass produced at the firm's factory in Abu Dhabi's military zone.
Saeed Ali Al Shamsi, Caracal Commercial Director, said the inaugural US shipment of the handguns represents a turning point for the company as it enjoys new international orders from police and security agencies around the globe.
"We're the only small-arms manufacturer in the Middle East to sell internationally," Al Shamsi told Gulf News in an exclusive interview.
"Our first shipment to the USlanded a month ago. Next year, we're looking at shipping 15,000 to 20,000 units to the US."
Securing the ATF export licence in 2009 was critical for Caracal's international sales, he said, noting that the US market is key to growth.
"The US is every gun manufacturer's market; they are the most important market. The fact that we've just landed there within three years of starting Caracal is an achievement in itself," said Al Shamsi.
"The journey of achieving a global presence and starting to do this in the US is just starting."
Gaining exposure is essential, he said, in the highly competitive handgun market now dominated by the Germans, Swiss and Austrians.
The company is making inroads in other international markets around the world with the Caracal now in use by four police agencies in Italy and as the service pistol for Bahrain, Jordan and EU Diplomatic Security in the Middle East.
"We have four Italian police departments that are using our Caracal full-size pistols within the last eight months. We're also exporting to Germany, France and Thailand."
Meanwhile, Caracal pistols are undergoing testing by police and special security agencies throughout western Europe, the Balkans and Russia.
"We have a good chance at landing more law enforcement agencies.
Police and government agencies are now testing our products," he said, adding that high interest from Russia is "testament that we do have quality. That's the main thing — we want to establish and build a reputation with users. People are starting see that a quality product is coming out of the UAE."
The quality is assured since the Caracal pistol received the Nato D14 standard certification several years ago. The certification was achieved after rigorous testing in Meppen, Germany, Al Shamsi said.
To get to the testing stage, a team of research and design experts was led by Caracal designer Wilhem Bulbits who also designed the Steyr M, a pistol has some resemblance to the Caracal product.
Not long after Caracal was incorporated, the new handgun was launched at the International Defence Exhibition (IDEX) 2007 in Abu Dhabi and in total, 33,000 of these pistols have been ordered by the UAE Armed Forces and Abu Dhabi Police.
Since then, 22,000 of the handguns have been delivered to the UAE Armed Forces and a further 11,000 will be provided to police officers in coming weeks.
"Caracal is now standard issue for the UAE military. Abu Dhabi Police should be handing it out to their officers within the next month," Al Shamsi said.
The company believes next year will see a larger number of shipments abroad and will see its 150 employees at the Caracal plant working hard to meet demand.
"In 2011, we're looking at producing 45,000 units. If there is a higher demand, we can go to 65,000," Al Shamsi said.
Those involved with Caracal from the start believe that the modified nine-millimetre pistol has advantages over other brands and that slight modifications in the design by Bulbits will help the firm's three models, Caracal F (Full), Caracal C (Compact) and Caracal SC (Subcompact), become popular over time.
Al Shamsi said that the Caracal series is a "better choice among other handguns" for three main reasons stemming from the expert design finalised by the research team: "its accuracy; less-felt recoil and less muzzle flip."
In essence, Caracal pistols have a lower profile between the barrel centreline to grip which means that the barrel is placed lower inside the gun so that it is positioned just above the user's hand on the grip.
A slight difference of only millimetres to create a lower-placed barrel gives users more natural intuition when firing, Al Shamsi said.
"The barrel sits lower, the slide is five millimetres lower than any other gun in the market," he said.
"The ergonomics of the gun allow you to hold it without cocking it up or down. You get recoil that is up and back rather than flipping."
Gun owners who routinely visit private indoor shooting ranges to engage in the sport may have to wait some time to get their hands on a Caracal pistol to experience the difference for themselves as compared to other more popular nine-millimetre semi-automatics, Saeed Ali Al Shamsi, Caracal Commercial Director, said.
While the number of pistols being sold privately is fewer, the main focus for now is "specifically going after the market of tactical units and special forces" for the immediate future, he said.
Mohammad Murad, Sales Executive of Al Hadaf Company based in Kuwait, said he would like to add Caracal pistols to his three hunting and equestrian outlets but has yet to secure the UAE-made handguns for sale to sports enthusiasts.
"We're looking forward to selling the Caracal in future. The Caracal is a very unique piece and is the best of the best," Murad said.
The fact that the Caracal pistols are the only handguns made in the region could prove to be an advantage for Middle East sales, Murad said, when they become more of a regular feature on the small arms market.
For now, the top-selling units of the nine models offered in Al Hadaf showrooms are the Walther P-99 made in Germany and the Glock made in Austria, he said.
"These are the biggest sellers for us," he said, noting that semi-automatic pistols range in price from $250 to $10,000.
Demand for pistols has been steadily increasing as more people in the Middle East pursue the sport of small arms at private indoor shooting clubs.
"Ten years ago, people liked shotguns but they now like pistols because of the growing popularity of target shooting," Murad said. "People all over the Middle East are shooting at ranges and have started to love the sport."