UAE’s Indigenous Weapon Developments Accelerate

Edge Saber 220 air-launched cruise missile
Edge appears to have adopted a low-observable airframe for the Saber 220, which it hopes to integrate on the UAE’s Mirage 2000s first.
Credit: Edge Group

With their wealth gained from being the energy supplier to the world, Middle East nations can usually comfortably afford to buy the latest missile technology.

But regional investments to become more self-sufficient in weapon development appear to be bearing fruit.

  • Edge’s Al Tariq glide bomb kits exported to Egypt
  • Development of Saber 220 cruise missile in early development

United Arab Emirates (UAE)-based defense company Edge Group has already established itself as a developer of autonomous aerial systems, loitering munitions and kits that turn dumb bombs into smart, standoff munitions. Now it is in the early stages of developing an indigenous air-launched cruise missile, the Saber 220, a 1,200-kg (2,450-lb.) turbojet-powered weapon with a 290-km (180-mi.) range. These specifications help keep the weapon within the rules of the Missile Technology Control Regime, to which the UAE is a signatory.

A full-scale mockup of the missile presented at this year’s Dubai Airshow could be easily dismissed as vaporware, but Edge has made investments in the propulsion, imaging seekers, target recognition and global navigation satellite anti-jam technology—an indigenous solution for the last was announced at the show—that support the weapon’s development. Meanwhile, missile components are shared with other products in the Edge range. The missile is not envisaged as a replacement for the standoff weapons already available to the UAE, including the MBDA Al-Shaheen derivative of the Scalp/Storm Shadow air-launched cruise missile, but as an additional capability targeted for integration on the UAE’s Dassault Mirage 2000s.

And there is more to follow, Edge CEO Faisal Al Bannai tells Aviation Week. He says his company will develop additional missile products, particularly for air defense.

The company is already working on the SkyKnight, a counter-rocket, artillery and mortar missile system developed in conjunction with Rheinmetall. Testing for the SkyKnight will see a second missile firing before the end of the year. And there is Edge’s HAS-250, a coastal defense anti-ship missile, that will share components including the engine with the Saber 220.

The aim in part is to boost national technology skills and self-sufficiency by developing sovereign capability and also to export it to the international market.

Edge is still largely reliant on foreign expertise in the development of its products, benefiting particularly from South Africa’s knowledge in the defense industry, but local experience is growing, with 45% of the company’s engineers comprising Emirati nationals.

“If we look at the smart weapons, at least 70% of these did not exist two years ago,” says Al Bannai, pointing out the weapons being displayed on the company’s stand at the Dubai Airshow.

Edge’s aim is to bring “products to market at a much faster pace than traditionally,” he adds. And that work is being supported by the UAE military, which Al Bannai describes as a “sophisticated client.”

“They have access to the latest technologies, and they are very experienced operationally, so it is not like you can bluff about your product,” Al Bannai says.

Furthermore, use of the company’s products by the UAE military, Al Bannai says, “is a major stamp of confidence,” and has been a key driver for the company’s export campaigns.

In recent months, the company has sold its Al Tariq precision-guided bomb kits to Egypt, where they have been used on Egypt’s Mirage 2000s and the country’s Lockheed Martin F-16s. The Al Tariq family is already in use on a range of UAE-operated platforms, including the BAE Systems Hawk jet trainer, Mirage 2000 and Iomax Archangel counterinsurgency platform.

Meanwhile, Edge said at the Dubai Airshow that it has begun exploratory work with Embraer about integrating its range of weapons onto the airframer’s A-29 Super Tucano turboprop light attack aircraft. Edge-designed weapons being proposed for the A-29 include conversion kits for dumb bombs and Halcon’s 5-25-kg Desert Sting lightweight precision-guided weapons.

“There is confidence building [in] our weapons and our products,” Al Bannai says. “Large platform providers . . . are interested to integrate our weapons on their platforms to have them ready as an offering. You will see similar announcements on other platforms down the line.”

Work is also underway on expanding the capabilities of the Al Tariq family of modular bomb kits for 120-450-kg dumb bombs. The Al Tariq family includes seeker heads, wing kits and rear-mounted guidance kits that can be fitted to the weapon depending on the mission requirement. Company officials say the Al Tariq is the only kit that enables a bomb to perform a top attack vertically.

Although the Al Tariq family of munitions was originally developed through a joint venture with South Africa’s Denel Dynamics, the weapon’s further development has now been transferred to the UAE, says Theunis Botha, CEO of the Al Tariq business. Technologies being developed are focused on “increasing range, increasing accuracy, standoff and low-observability,” Botha adds. Current work sees the company adapting the Al Tariq for heavier bombs, with a particular focus on 1,000-lb.-class weapons. New features on the kits include height-of-burst sensors and a new penetrator warhead for use in the 500-lb.-class weapons, aerial testing of which will be undertaken during 2022.

Politics have prevented the UAE-developed weapons from being fitted to the UAE Air Force’s Block 60 F-16s, and similar challenges will likely prevent fitment to the future fleet of Lockheed Martin F-35s. But Botha says he would like to see the weapons “integrated on modern fighters,” though that will have to work within the approval domain of the users, relevant political authorities, and the country’s suppliers and aircraft.”

Tony Osborne

Based in London, Tony covers European defense programs. Prior to joining Aviation Week in November 2012, Tony was at Shephard Media Group where he was deputy editor for Rotorhub and Defence Helicopter magazines.