Inside EDGE – Caracal, small arms from the UAE

Paolo Valpolini

Formed in 2007, Caracal is the EDGE entity devoted to the design and production of small arms and has already become an international player. Visiting its premises gives the sense of a continuously evolving company aimed at improving quality and capabilities, and widening its already ample portfolio

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A rapid developing company part of EDGE Missiles & Weapons cluster, its first product, a semiautomatic pistol, was followed in 2014 by a 5.56 mm assault rifle, a sniper rifle appearing three years later, while 2023 saw the advent of a light machine gun. In the meantime, the company started looking outside the UAE, forming Caracal International which controls the non-UAE based subsidiaries. These are Caracal USA in Idaho, Merkel in Suhl, Germany, which in turns owns Haenel.

But the Caracal home is definitely Abu Dhabi. The location gives some advantages, as geographically it is close to most of the key market areas, but what makes a difference is definitely the strong financing system provided by the UAE, as well as the flexibility and reduced times for export license, which does not mean that exports are not submitted to stringent controls.

In the last years the company considerably expanded its export, shifting from an 80% national, 20% export in 2014, to a 60% export and 40% national in 2022, while turnover marked an 8% yearly increase.

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The company established Caracal International, which oversees its operations located abroad, such as Caracal USA, headquartered in Boise, Idaho, responsible for the North American market, as well as for Merkel, the company based in Suhl, central Germany, which also owns Haenel, located in the same town, the former specialised in hunting rifles while the latter is also producing defence weapons. German-based companies are however being reoriented towards law enforcement products.

As for export, a first step was the industrial cooperation agreement signed in March 2021 signed with Indonesia PT Pindad, which includes the co-production of the CAR 816 for the Indonesian market, PT Pindad providing the barrel and other components.

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Two years later, at IDEX 2023, signed a partnership licensing agreement with India-based ICOMM, part of Megha Engineering and Infrastructures Limited (MEIL) group Co. This includes the localised production in India of several Caracal products such as the Caracal EF pistol and the CMP 9 sub machine gun, both in 9×19 mm, the CAR 816 and CAR 817 assault rifles, respectively in 5.56 x 45 and 7.62 x 51 mm, the CAR 817 DMR tactical sniper rifle in .308, the CSR 338 and CSR 308 bolt action sniper rifles and the CSA 338 semi-automatic sniper rifle, numbers indicating the calibre, and finally the CSR 50 anti-material sniper rifle, in 12.7 x 99 mm. “India has a very qualified industry, with a fully reliable supply chain,” Hamad Al Ameri, CEO of Caracal told EDR On-Line. This is leading Caracal to extend its own supply chain to India.

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The agreement led to a contract for 400,000 assault rifles and 4,446 sniper rifles, which will be produced in Hyderabad, the capital of the Indian state of Telangana. Currently low-rate initial production is starting, the weapons produced being used for testing by Indian defence authorities.

A few months later, in May 2023, Caracal signed an agreement with Ketech Asia, a Malaysian company located south of Kuala Lumpur, for producing locally and then resale the CAR 816 assault rifle.

Caracal tries to exploit at its best the weaknesses of some of its competitors, namely European ones, on African and Asian markets, and is ready to cope with localisation through various business models, ranging from intellectual property (IP) licensing, to joint ventures, to other solutions.

The Tawazun Industrial Park (TIP), in Abu Dhabi, is the home of Caracal, and is where the research and development team creates new products, generating IPs, and where prototypes are produced, tested, finalised and then the new product is manufactured.

For rapid prototyping Caracal has in house three 3D printers using polymer, one using metal being available as part of the EDGE group.

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Currently the company production capacity is of 3,000 pistols, 500 submachine guns, 4,000 assault rifles and 500 sniper rifles per month. Most of the work is done in house, although some is outsourced. In the last three years Caracal has considerably increased the number of local suppliers, to increase resilience, although a dual source is becoming India. This does not relate necessarily to weapons components; one case is the machinery used for producing barrels; provided by Precihole, a leading manufacturer of deep hole drilling and hole finishing solutions based near Mumbai, the capital city of the Indian state of Maharashtra, the machine is capable to produce barrels in calibres up to 14.5, 20 and 23 mm, and up to 2 metres long. All barrels are made in-house, using different manufacturing techniques, depending on the type of weapon, hammer forging being the one used for assault rifles, and all heat treatments fall among Caracal capacities. Polymer elements are also produced by the company itself, Caracal aiming at developing its own polymers to better answer its requirements. As for coating, it ensures Cerakote or phosphate coating, and in the future Caracal aims at becoming the EDGE coating specialist.

The company has a 25 metres shooting range, which is used to test every single weapon produced. For assault rifles 20 rounds are used, five for accuracy, five for action, and 10 for rate of fire check. Sniper rifles and pistols are tested with 10 rounds each.

Co-located with Caracal we find the Abu Dhabi Proof House; owned by the local government, in 2012, it became internationally accredited by means of the UAE joining the Brussels-based Commission Internationale Permanente (C.I.P.) pour l’épreuve des armes à feu portatives, the international board that lays down common rules and regulations for the proof of weapons and their ammunition. It has a 100 metres range and operates closely with the company to certify Caracal products.

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And these will further increase in the near future. “Following the unveiling of our first light machine gun, the Caracal Light Machine Gun 556, CLMG 556, we aim at presenting at IDEX 2023 the 7.62 mm machine gun,” Hamad Al Ameri said. “We also started developing a 12.7×99 mm machine gun, which we hope will be ready by 2027,” he unveiled, underlining that this will not be a traditional weapon and will be based on an aggressive idea, which aims at a multi-use weapon optimised for installation on board unmanned air and ground vehicles. It will be user-friendly on many different platforms, will be gas operated, and electrically or manually fired. Asked about the absence of shotguns in Caracal portfolio, the company CEO stated that the market in the area is not strong enough to justify the development of that type of weapon.

Asked about new calibres that are becoming more and more popular, such as the 6.8 mm, Hamad Al Ameri said that “a shift from current rounds will take time, not so much for weapons but mostly for ammunition supply issues. However, we are preparing for a conversion of our assault rifles in the new calibre, and this will see 80% of commonality with the current C817, adding that a new multi-calibre platform is already in the design phase.

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Currently within EDGE Missiles & Weapons cluster we find the small arms producer, Caracal, and the ammunition producer, Lahab Light Ammunition, the group lacking a company producing sights dedicated to small arms. “The process is starting now,” Hamad Al Ameri said, adding that the group has the capacities exploiting the know-how of EOC (Electro-Optics Centre of Excellence) and of the many laboratories. Will this lead to the creation of a new company, this has not been decided yet.

A key element in winning orders is the quality of after sale support. At Caracal we find a maintenance centre capable to cope with Level 1 and Level 2 maintenance of all weapons, not only those manufactured by the company. Moreover, Caracal developed a van-based mobile workshop, which has now become a true product, and which often becomes part of the contracts.

Finally, to cope with increased production Caracal invested in a new fully automated storage system that will have 2.5 times more stock capacity than the old one and will allow a much more streamlined process when preparing deliveries for customers.

Photos courtesy EDGE and P. Valpolini