Ras Al Khaimah: When Lebanese expat Tarek Hameidani launched his armoured vehicle company in the UAE in 2009, he had only five employees – and a dream to be a leader in the industry one day.
By 2021, that dream came true. Today, the company, TAG Middle East, is a leading maker of armoured vehicles, not only in the UAE but regionally as well.
From building only one or two armoured cars in the company’s early days, Hameidani has moved on to supply the United Nations with armoured vehicles and customised cars for presidents, politicians and law enforcement officials in Africa.
Seeing a need
“I saw the need for armoured vehicle manufacturing in the region and established my first company. In 2009, I signed a joint venture with the Armored Group, a US-based manufacturer, and created TAG Middle East,” Hameidani told Gulf News.
In 2016, TAG Middle East built a 12,000-square-metre manufacturing facility in Ras Al Khaimah Free Zone, servicing clients such as the UN and various regional government agencies.
“We have been growing organically ever since. In 2017, when Ismail Shteiwi joined as chairman and partner in the business, we set up a bigger facility,” said Hameidani. Also In 2017, TAG Middle East was awarded as one of the “Fastest Growing Companies” in the free zone.
What is an armoured vehicle?
“Armoured vehicles are designed to offer the highest level of security and protection to ensure the safety of the people and valuables involved. They are designed to sustain fires, bullets, explosions, and any other attacks directed at harming the passengers,” the founder said.
The process of armouring a vehicle involves bullet-proofing it and adding protective layers to make sure it can withstand any sort of attack, he added. A personal armoured vehicle is an existing vehicle that receives armoured upgrades and protection, such as Land Cruisers that TAG Middle East supplies to the UN, presidents, VIPs, ministers and politicians.
“The main purpose is not to draw attention to the customised vehicles. Whoever is inside it wants the vehicle to look like any normal car, that’s why we keep it as low-profile as possible.”
Other upgrades such as GPS and satellite connections can be added to the armoured vehicles upon the customer’s request.
Chairman Shteiwi said the company also has another role – educating customers about armoured vehicles.
“We build around 50 armoured vehicles per month, yet many people don’t know about armoured vehicles. We stay in touch with clients and educate them,” Shteiwi added.
“About 90 per cent of our clients are outside the UAE but the strategic location of the country makes the UAE a good hub for us and close to the market in Southeast Asia, Middle East, and Africa,” Shteiwi added.
Hameidani, thanked the UAE, especially Ras Al Khaimah’s government and RAK Economic Zone, for their support and providing the latest services to boost their production lines.
‘Made in UAE’
“With the demand for our armoured vehicles as an Emirati product, our place in RAK facilitated getting the right supplies, experts and transportation. The factory has 250 employees from different nationalities working on building a product carrying the logo ‘Made in UAE’,” said Hameidani.
During a visit by Gulf News to the factory in Ras Al Khaimah, a new armoured Land Cruiser was on its way to Germany to be tested for ballistic and blast performance.
Hameidani said that not all armoured vehicles in the world are certified or pass a test, but the key element of the company’s success is making sure all its vehicles are certified.
“Using just high-quality materials is not enough for us. We build and design the vehicle, adding the layers of protection before sending it to Europe for testing. It is very important to have a certified armoured vehicle.
“Customers who buy an armoured car are exposed to special threats. They need to be sure that they are safe 100 per cent,” he added.
The test in Europe includes shooting the armoured vehicle with over 300 rounds and nine blasts to earn a certificate. “The certified vehicle means zero penetration and 100 per cent survival.”
Building vehicles from scratch
The factory has also developed from building bulletproof cars to building military-designed vehicles from scratch.
“We have the military-designed vehicles for the ministry of interior or the defence and law enforcement in other countries of Africa. Those vehicles are designed from scratches based on customers’ requirements,” said Hameidani.
One of the main military-designed vehicles is the Ballistic Armoured Tactical Transport (BATT).
The BATT vehicles are used by special assignment units and Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) units conducting law enforcement and homeland security missions. The BATT range of vehicles can transport 12 to 14 officers in urban and off-road theatres of operation. The vehicles allow police and internal security forces to provide quick responses to critical incidents involving firearms and violence.
‘Everyone is their own boss’
At the company, the ‘Agile Scale-Up’ programme is about “democratising decision-making” for employee wellbeing. Hameidani said their journey with the new concept started two years ago with Ed Capaldi, who has been assisting them since.
“He has been our coach along the way. The system helped people who started with us from a junior level to develop and grow – and they are now sitting on the board of senior management,” said Hameidani.
Agile Scale-Up helped the company to move away from the usual top-down control system to “everyone is their own boss”, he added.