Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates—Amid heightened security
risks in the Persian Gulf region, this nation’s military is
pushing aggressively to develop its own surveillance and reconnaissance
“UAVs are an integral part of any efficient combat force,”
Maj. Gen. Khalid Al-Bu Ainnain, commander of the UAE air force and
air defense, told National Defense. “It is not a choice anymore.”
In the case of the UAE, a small but wealthy country wedged between
Saudi Arabia and Oman, “it is important to have early warning,
surveillance, data gathering and targeting,” Al-Bu Ainnain
said in an interview during a military show in Abu Dhabi. “The
UAVs are extremely important for homeland security.”
The UAE uses unmanned aircraft and other collection systems, in
conjunction with satellite imagery to conduct persistent monitoring
of smuggling, border intrusions, other illegal activities, troop
movements and military installations, officials said.
While the UAE sees unmanned aircraft as a huge benefit for intelligence,
surveillance and reconnaissance, and targeting, it currently is
not considering equipping the platforms with weapons, a trend that
has taken off in the U.S. military. “Weaponizing the UAVs
is not a goal for us,” said Al-Bu Ainnain.
“The UAV is not meant to be armed,” because whatever
effect a small weapon mounted on a UAV would achieve, it still can’t
stop any possible ensuing military action, noted Al-Bu Ainnain.
“It does not change the war,” he said. UAVs also become
extremely vulnerable, because they have to fly low to shoot the
weapon, he asserted.
UAE has had extensive experience with unmanned systems, he said.
The air force, for example, has been using the South African Seeker
system, which was developed by Denel, for more than 14 years, and
has “an excellent experience,” said Al-Bu Ainnain.
“UAVs have become a mandatory development technology,”
he stressed. Therefore, in 2004, the UAE military established a
UAV research and technology center under the guidance of the air
force. The center, located in UAE’s capital Abu Dhabi, promotes
international cooperation in the development of systems—thus
leading to better interoperability with allies—and the development
of an indigenous team of experts through technology transfer, said
officials. The center is the first of its kind in the Gulf region,
While the research and development currently is done in conjunction
with international companies, the aim eventually is to train local
people to develop the technology, said an air force pilot who works
at the center, who asked not to be identified.
The center tests new flight control technologies, avionics systems,
including guidance, navigation, sensors, control communications
and operator interface components. “This is set to position
the UAE as a regional center for the aerospace industry and will
enforce our local defense capabilities,” Col. Staff Pilot
Mahash Al Hameli, the head of the project, said in a statement.
The UAE military signed a memorandum of understanding with a local
business called Gulf Aircraft Maintenance Company, better known
as GAMCO, to use some of the company’s know-how and its facilities
in support of research and development projects.
The center takes the requirements that emerge within the armed
forces and develops systems based on those needs, explained the
air force pilot. “We are trying to use commercial-off-the-shelf
technology and put it together [at the center], and work with other
countries for the technology transfer,” he told National Defense.
The main goal to be achieved by this technology “is the protection
of the country and humanitarian missions,” such as emergency
relief, regional security and peacekeeping, he added. “There
is a lot of need for this technology.”
The center is shifting much of its weight towards the development
of rotary, vertical take off and landing UAVs. UAE is collaborating
with two foreign companies to develop these aircraft. One program
is the “Al Sber,” which is the S-100 UAV, built by the
Austrian company Schiebel. The S-100 is based on the company’s
version of the Camcopter. The Camcopter 6.0 UAV is an advanced,
medium-range, medium-endurance VTOL UAV.
The S-100 can carry a 55-pound payload for up to six hours. The
maximum payload it can carry can reach 121 pounds. The platform
has a dash speed of 120 knots and a cruise speed of 50 knots for
best endurance. The S-100 is capable of fully autonomous takeoff,
waypoint navigation and landing, according to company specifications.
In terms of the video and data link, the S-100 can send up to two
simultaneous feeds of fully digital, compressed video. The UAV is
122 inches long, 41 inches high and has a width of 49 inches. Its
main rotor diameter goes to 133.9 inches.
The development of the S-100 will be completed by the end of this
month. Full production is scheduled by the end of the year, said
The second program—the Apid 55—a smaller multi-purpose
UAV, is being developed in conjunction with CybAero, a Swedish company.
A fully autonomous VTOL UAV, the Apid 55 can be equipped with different
sensors and can transmit video and data in real-time to the ground
control station. On board, it has a three-hour video recorder and
a video-support tool, both developed by the Norwegian company SiMiCon.
The Apid can be used for surveillance, reconnaissance, target identification
and designation, as well as environmental monitoring. It has automatic
vertical take off and landing and can endure missions of up to six
hours depending on the payload weight. It can travel at 90 kilometers
per hour at a maximum altitude of 3,000 meters above sea level.
This development also is nearing completion, said the pilot.
The UAV research and development center also is working with GAMCO
to develop the GRS 100 Falcon 1 UAV as an anti-submarine-warfare
platform carrying a miniature magnetic anomaly detection system
in a pod beneath the air wing. A Canadian company, CAE, is developing
the detection system. CAE has built several versions of the MAD
system for actual aircraft. MAD can identify magnetic variations
or anomalies caused by a submarine. The system usually is installed
in the tail area of an aircraft that is used for maritime patrol
and surveillance. The expectation is that the Falcon 1 will be finished
in less than a year, said the pilot.
Meanwhile, the center is experimenting with micro-UAVs, as well
as hand-held systems, to support ground troops, said Al-Bu Ainnain.
Together with a South Korean company, UCONSYSTEM, the UAV center
is working on an integrated ground station that will be capable
to control the activity of the Schiebel S-100, the Apid 55 and other
systems under development, explained the pilot. The ground control
station can enable mission planning and in-flight real-time hazard
analysis. The station also has a digital map and is able to process
images in real-time, as well as display and edit them. GCS offers
the flight data analysis and database, and controls the sensors
and payload. Apart from developing the ground station, UCONSYSTEM
signed a memorandum of understanding with the center to advise on
all matters related to UAVs.
Because UAE armed forces have an aggressive technology-insertion
program, all systems have to be built to be flexible in order to
be upgraded and improved constantly, said officials.
Unmanned technology developments, however, are not confined solely
to the armed forces. Outside the military research center, the Abu-Dhabi-based
ADCOM Group has been developing unmanned systems for use as targets
for 13 years. For example, the company’s SAT-400 medium-speed
target system is in operation in Canada and the UAE military, said
Mohammed Khalifa Al Ghalfi, ADCOM’s managing director. Negotiations
for the system are going on in Qatar, Oman, Libya, Indonesia and
Malasia, he said.
While the SAT-400 is exemplary of the company’s standard
target products, ADCOM has just developed the double-delta wing
Yabhon-M UAV. The Yabhon has a range of 6000 km and can fly 30 continuous
hours. It can carry a 25-kilogram payload and 190 kilograms of fuel,
said Al Ghalfi. “It has a fully advanced flight control unit,
a laser terrain avoidance system and a fly by wire unit,”
he said. The UAV also has a portable ground control station.
Since it flies up to 30,000 feet for 30 hours, the Yabhon is well-suited
for long-range strategic surveillance and reconnaissance, he said.
ADCOM designs and produces most of its technology in-house, including
an integrated flight control system, the terrain avoidance system
and control station that can also substitute as a simulator. While
the company does not have any contracts for the Yabhon, it has seen
interest from several countries and is expecting to see first orders
coming soon, Al Ghalfi said.