BEIRUT: About four months prior to its third anniversary, a Gulf defense conglomerate is attempting to become the fourth industrial revolution hub in the region, and a player far beyond.
The United Arab Emirates’ Edge conglomerate, which was built on the ruins of the Emirates Defense Industries Company, is currently made up of 25 individual entities. Although it is still in the early stages of formation, Edge has made strides in the international arms sales market, so much so that the conglomerate’s managing director and CEO, Mansour Almulla, told Breaking Defense in an interview that they’re looking to expand not only to new markets outside the Middle East, but to new ways of partnering with regional entities.
The conglomerate is developing a wide range of products from armored vehicles, to electronic warfare systems to munitions, and has entered a considerably large number of joint ventures with Western companies to codevelop IPs within the UAE, in compliance with vision 2030 to reach 50% technology transfer and local defense production by 2030. However, looking closely at the announcements and launched projects reveals that the main concentration of the firm is in autonomy and artificial intelligence, where it is trying to find a niche in the market and to compete with other regional players like Turkey and Israel.
Almulla, who was appointed late January 2022, spoke with Breaking Defense in his first interview with international media since he took on the role. He spoke about the firm’s business model, what was achieved from its ambitious inauguration program, the targeted markets, cooperation with regional and international players, export plans and future targets.
The Q&A below, conducted over email, has been edited for length and clarity.
BREAKING DEFENSE: As the new EDGE Group managing director and CEO, how does your vision differ from your predecessor’s? What will be your main domain of focus for the conglomerate?
ALMULLA: EDGE is one of the greatest success stories to have emerged from the UAE’s industrial ecosystem. The vision remains to create a fertile environment for further growth as EDGE moves to grow its footprint in the region and in key markets around the world. We are focused towards achieving the objectives of EDGE for developing and promoting our sovereign capabilities, and for creating a global center of excellence here in the UAE.
The aim also is to adopt advanced Industry 4.0 technologies to create efficient manufacturing processes in all areas of its product development journey and in upskilling and training the workforce in the adoption of these technologies across all shop floor operations.
From its ambitious vision to become a regional pioneer in AI and autonomy, what has EDGE achieved in these areas so far?
Our strategic priorities at EDGE revolve around three critical investment areas. The first is drones, with a specific focus on unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) and unmanned ground vehicles (UGVs). The second is the electromagnetic spectrum (EMS). With modern defense and sophisticated security systems being developed to operate the complex multi-domain environments of today, our key objective is being resilient to deception and disruption, converging cyber and electronic warfare for battlespace superiority. Lastly, we wish to focus on armaments that will see the development of next generation munitions technology, air defense systems, and smart weapons, while also serving soldiers of the future through high-performance and high precision.
Does EDGE use 5G telecommunications for its UAV communication?
Our UAVs can be equipped to operate across 5G networks depending on customer requirements.
EDGE is exporting its products within the region as well as to Europe and beyond. Is this a direct consequence of the joint ventures you have with companies in those countries? What are your future export plans?
EDGE has an aggressive export roadmap and [has] already seen success in a number of export markets with products now being provided to over 20 countries globally. We have been building a strong industrial blueprint as a pioneer of indigenous capabilities and advanced technologies, to bring superior products and solutions to market with agility, covering our focus areas and beyond. Currently, we have over 40 advanced products under development within the EDGE Group. These products are designed to serve a wide range of national security requirements as we continue to provide for the diverse needs of the UAE’s defense sector. With a focus on autonomous capabilities, precision guided platforms and electronic warfare, alongside its other defense and security capabilities, EDGE continues to collaborate with a diverse set of international partners to co-develop intellectual property (IP) and future products, with an emphasis on SMEs and start-ups.
What are your industrial plans of cooperation with key regional players? Are there negotiations with Jordan and Egypt for complementary defense production? What about cooperation with KSA (including JAIS production cooperation)?
EDGE entity NIMR recently signed a strategic teaming agreement with Saudi Arabian Military Industries (SAMI) and we are also looking into opportunities that expand internationally, with a number of countries in the MENA region being of interest. As EDGE is not just simply a vendor, we will offer to work with these countries to build capabilities for their defense sectors, and to forge mutually beneficial partnerships.
EDGE is developing drones for different missions, from loitering munitions to intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance UAVs to cargo drones. What is the company’s next step in autonomous technology development and 3D printing?
We have a full product development roadmap, and we are successfully meeting our milestones and advancing our capabilities. Autonomous technology is accelerating at an exponential rate, and we recognize that defense equipment around the world is becoming smarter every day as a result. Our R&D teams ensure that we are staying ahead of the curve, so that our customers are equipped for the ever-evolving modern battlefields. We are leveraging technologies that will help military personnel make better decisions and outpace their opponents at every stage of the mission across land, air and maritime domains.
A small follow up on these programs: high-energy laser cooperation and counter-drone technology work with [defense firms] MBDA and CILAS, loitering munitions development, and counter drone systems production in cooperation with Israel Aerospace Industries. Can you please give us some details about the status of these projects?
Loitering munitions: We currently have an extensive portfolio of loitering munitions that cater to a wide range of missions requiring precision, speed and endurance. While we intend to launch new additions to this portfolio by 2023, we are still refining our current offerings. A number of our loitering munitions are under development and are being tailored to the specific requirements of clients, both locally and internationally. As we have mentioned, advancing our autonomous capabilities is a core priority for us and we will continue to invest in expanding our portfolio and pushing the boundaries of innovation.
Counter-drone solutions: We will be fielding a complete counter-UAS solution soon. We have been rigorously testing and trialing the various systems for over a year now — ensuring that the end result meets the specific operational needs of our customers. This project has required huge commitment and collaboration, and we look forward to witnessing our hard work come to fruition.
When EDGE was first formed, it had an aim to remove redundancy between entities and seek complementary capabilities, at what stage are you in this attempt especially that more than one entity is specialized in producing drones, same to missiles and munitions?
A priority since the establishment of EDGE in November 2019 was to rationalize the entities within EDGE, remove duplication and leverage synergies across the different business that had, before, operated independently. Today we have restructured the organizations to ensure not only from a product portfolio that we have removed redundancy but ensured from a manufacturing perspective we leverage this competence across the organizations to optimize capacity and maximize the investment from our industrial footprint
What is your next five-year plan? And what is EDGE plan to penetrate regional and international markets among all the competition?
Five years from now, EDGE will be known as a company that converges commercial market innovations with military capabilities, to be at the forefront of cutting-edge technologies – delivering products and services at speed, with a growing global export footprint. As we continue to deliver outstanding products and solutions for our key clients and markets, we expect this will be reflected in our global ranking as one of the world’s leading defense organizations. EDGE is already ranked among the top 25 military suppliers in the world by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI). This is the first time that a Middle East company has ever been named among the biggest defense original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) and security exporters, which is a testament to the vision of our leadership and our collective achievements across the Group.
Aside from the home market and neighboring Gulf Cooperation Council states, a number of countries in Africa, Asia and South America are among EDGE’s target markets. EDGE is focused on building sovereign capabilities, as well as heavily focused on exporting its products and services to the MENA region and beyond. EDGE is in growth trajectory. As such, we are able to further invest and strengthen our relationships with global players to be part of a stronger ecosystem as an exporter. We have currently formed over 55 global strategic partnerships, which creates significant value for EDGE.