Fahed Al Shamsi, CEO of Advanced Military Maintenance Repair and Overhaul Centre in Abu Dhabi, with a jet engine on display during the last day of Idex 2011. Image Credit: Abdul Rahman /Gulf News

Abu Dhabi: A large portion of the Dh14.5 billion worth of contracts awarded by the UAE Armed Forces during the 10th edition of the International Defence Exhibition and Conference (Idex) this past week, were bagged by UAE-based military companies.

In efforts to upgrade the country's naval vessels, fire control systems, tanks, armoured vehicles, and ammunition, the UAE government has spent billions of dirhams on attracting international military expertise to the UAE. This has resulted in the development of advanced military technology, alongside research and development training. Apart from turning diverse Blackhawk choppers into gunships, a deal worth approximately Dh1 billion, the government has also invested in training UAE-based pilots, technicians, and navigators on military products.

No quota

Major-General Obaid Al Katbi told Gulf News that the UAE Armed Forces have not specified a quota for purchases of military supplies from UAE-based companies, but he added that more emphasis will be placed on the UAE market.

"The UAE has become a hub to the Mena (Middle East and North Africa) region, that's why we are going to place more emphasis on research and development, logistics, and on building up our technology and manpower. At the end, the UAE looks for quality products, but of course we encourage UAE companies to improve their supplies. I do believe that is happening through various international joint ventures and constant product testing.

"Various GCC countries, who are already purchasing many of our UAE-based products," said Al Katbi, who added that the UAE is not far from being a military manufacturing hub in the UAE.

Tawazun Holding, the government-owned investment company that specialises in defence manufacturing, technology and capability development, is among many companies that has been working to build a manufacturing base in the UAE.

During Idex, the company had announced it will acquire 26 per cent of the shares in International Golden Group (IGG), the regional defence product and system supplier, which specialises in providing high-end security and defence solutions to the UAE Government, UAE Armed Forces, UAE Ministry of Interior and other Security Agencies.

"IGG is one of the key contributors to security preparedness in the UAE. IGG and Tawazun Holding have complementary strategies, networks and business models that enable us to align to develop our mutual capabilities in the future," said Saif Mohammad Al Hajeri, Chief Executive Officer of Tawazun Holding, in a statement that was released yesterday.

IGG is all geared up to move into the complex realm of manufacturing, system integration and assembly to become the leading regional supplier for land, air and naval defence and security equipment and services. This will help contribute to the development of the local defence community through the transfer of technology and know-how.

Joint venture

"The government sees IGG as a huge company and they can make a huge joint venture between IGG and Tawazun through this buying shares of IGG," Fadel Al Kaabi, Chief Executive Officer of IGG told Gulf News yesterday.

Following its purchase of 60 per cent of Nimr Automotive, the UAE company which manufactures NIMR vehicles — off-road extreme utility military vehicles — Tawazun has signed a contract with the UAE Armed Forces worth Dh736 million for 1,000 NIMR vehicles.

Tawazun also bought an ammunition factory earlier this year from Adcom Systems, a group of 30 plus companies specialising in the manufacturing of UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles), aerial targets and air traffic radars in the UAE.

This Idex, IGG signed 21 contracts, including two joint ventures with South African company Paramount Group and Turkish company Aselsan.

"It's a good time and a good place at Idex to build the relationship between a local company and an international company," Al Kaabi said. "The presence of the local companies has been outstanding," said Khalfan Al Shamsi, Chief Executive Officer of Advanced Integrated Systems, an integrated homeland security solutions company.

"I think what's more important is the quality and type of systems presented with the local companies [at Idex]. It has exceeded expectations," he added.

The company is targeting contracts worth $2 billion this year. At Idex alone it has been able to close deals worth $600 million, said Al Shamsi.

The company also announced its joint venture with a French car manufacturer, Exagon Motors, to introduce its electrical car into the market. "What they have done is outstanding and is the most advanced electrical car currently ready for production," he said.

The company will only produce a limited number of 150 to 200 cars per year and the price will range between €250,000 to €300,000 (Dh1.5 million).

Bayanat, which recently became one of Mubadala Development Company's subsidiaries after the General Headquarters (GHQ) commercialised the military survey department, is set to become a leader in surveying, mapping and geospatial information services.

Bayanat will provide end-to-end and customised geospatial data products and services such as land surveys; aerial photography; map production; nautical charts; and geographic information system (GIS) analysis that covers the whole of the UAE. The new company has 35 years of experience and the proven track record of the Military Survey Department, a critical support service unit in the UAE Armed Forces. It will now extend its service offering to public sector institutions, private companies and other military organisations in the GCC. Bayanat will continue to serve the UAE Armed Forces as its primary client, however plans to go beyond the UAE.

"Right now, we are covering the whole of the UAE. We would like to cover the entire GCC," said Khalid Dasmal, Bayanat's manager for Aerial Survey & Data Acquisition. Towards this end, Bayanat plans to strengthen its existing capabilities by investing in Dh50 million in critical information technology infrastructure and state-of-the-art technology.