IDEX 2023: “We are disruptive,” the EDGE Chairman says

Paolo Valpolini

On November 5th 2019 EDGE was launched during an event at Abu Dhabi, the new company aggregating a number of local defence entities under a single umbrella, looking for synergies and aiming at making the United Arab Emirates self-sufficient in most areas of military equipment. Slightly more than three years later EDGE has the largest stand at IDEX, and is unveiling a number of new systems. EDR On-Line talked to H.E. Faisal Al Bannai, Chairman of the Board of Directors.

In these three years of existence the group growth was quite astonishing. “When we launched the new company we made it clear that we did not intend to be a defence contractor that works in advanced technology, but we are a high-tech company that happens to work in the defence sector. Our DNA is not that of defence companies that are slow, bureaucratic, expensive, but we aim at being a high-tech agile organisation that employs its technology for defence matters. This means we want to be agile, fast, efficient and as we said three years ago we aim at disrupting the market. We also declared that we cater for many areas, saying that in the next five to 10 years we would have focused on autonomy, smart weapons and electronic warfare, with the aim of becoming a key global player in those sectors.”

And looking at what EDGE is exhibiting at IDEX 2023 the company is well launched towards the intended targets. “At that time we had 20 products, with only two of them under development. Today we have over 110 products, around 50 of them under development that means we have 60 of them in our portfolio. Among those we have 30 autonomous products, considering those ready for the market and those still under development, while three years ago we had none. Three years ago we had no smart weapons and now we have around 15 of them, and the same is true for electronic warfare systems,” the EDGE Chairman told us.

At the inauguration day in 2019 it was stated that EDGE was created for multiple reasons, the two main ones being, first, to build sovereign capabilities to protect the country, and second to become a catalyst in creating a knowledge economy, capable to export technology. “In 2019 our booked export deals was around 60 million US$; in 2022 we are over 1.5 billion US$. Considering our order book in 2022, 35% of the value is represented by export contracts, the overall order book value being over 5 billion US$.”

Quality is a key issue in the defence world. “All the products we are selling now are the default product in their category for the UAE Armed Forces. And our forces use the best technology, do not compromise on quality,” H.E. Faisal Al Bannai said. And this relates to manpower. “As of today 35% of our engineers are nationals, 55% are females, and these young men and women are those in charge of the projects. There has been a tremendous momentum in the organisation and in the capability building. And when we said we wanted to become a key player in certain areas, we have just to look at the recent order for loitering munitions this makes us one of the largest actors in that field.”

Internal growth, joint ventures, and the acquisition of foreign companies allowed reaching those targets. “The majority of the growth was generated by an internal growth, either hiring national personnel or bringing to Abu Dhabi the best talents to work here, in a cosmopolitan ad tolerant country.” In the UAE EDGE is attracting a number of students from local universities, offering them a good career path in developing advanced technologies, and some of them the Chairman explains, may in the future create spin-offs and start-ups in other sectors, as technology bricks are there.

“However we also selectively looked at small to medium-size companies in which we are investing strategically to accelerate our capability growth. Taking Milrem Robotics as an example, we invested into that company to further accelerate our growth in autonomous ground vehicles. We will continue to make strategic investments that are not the core of our growth, and selectively we will look at cooperation with third parties, with the same ration we maintained in the recent past and in the same three areas that I already mentioned.”

The EDGE Chairman then explained how the disruptive definition has become a reality. “In the defence world it is uncommon that a company announces the price of its products, but this is what we are doing for two products here at IDEX, to show how disruptive we can be. The Reach-S was shown at the Dubai Airshow, in November 2021, as a plastic mock-up. This UAS already started flying and will go into production. It falls in the 150 kg payload category, but besides the short development time, the real disruption comes from cost. As again systems which cost falls between 3.5 and 5 million US$, our Reach-S will have a tag price of 1.1 million US$, which means over 70% lower than the average in that same category with similar specifications.” H.E. Faisal Al Bannai explains.

Another emerging player on the battlefield is the loitering munition. “Here the key players are in the United States and in Israel. Our Armed Forces announced a contract for the Hunter family, one of the largest for this type of weapon, and we made a statement on the Hunter-2, that with a 2 kg payload announcing that its cost is 29,000 US$ while its competitors price ranges between 130,000 and 160,000 US$,” the EDGE Chairman says, adding that this might well change the paradigm between the use of standard ammunition versus that of smart ones such as the Hunter. “The Hunter and the Reach-s are the demonstration that we are able to build efficiently, very fast and to be very competitive. And this is how we will change the market in these sectors, which might bring the armed forces to change their operating mode.”

Considering the five domains, sea, air, land, cyber and space, EDGE is not present only in the last one, however H.E. Faisal Al Bannai told us that “in the near future there will be some announcement on space programmes.”

As for the air segment, “this sector is ripe for disruption, so Reach-S is for us the entry point in this field, and you will see multiple products coming from us at an accelerated speed. In the last three years we were busy with loitering munitions, electronic warfare, smart weapons, but now we are putting the throttle aggressively on UAS Reach-S is a teaser, and much more will come. Another teaser is the Jeniah UCAV that we unveiled here at IDEX, and we consider that a fast and stealth platform can do some of what a fighter plane does today. So stay tuned, follow us in the near future, we will disrupt the market with advanced capabilities,” H.E. Faisal Al Bannai stated.

When EDGE was formed in late 2019 Abu Dhabi Ship Building, ADSB in short, was in a very difficult situation. This has changed considerably. “There is not a single element that led to this quick recovery, like all the companies it was a matter of focusing the strategy, the products offering, have a very clear go-to-market programme and bring all those capabilities within the EDGE Group. Today ADSB is attracting numerous orders, we have clients talking to us in multiple areas, and today this company is growing and is building a good order book.”

H.E. Faisal Al Bannai is definitely a technology fan, and is looking and beside disrupting markets he is looking closely at disrupting technologies. “I think that among key technologies we find those that enable autonomy, as I think that future wars will be fought by connected systems in manned-unmanned teams, so this is one of the areas in which we are investing heavily. Electronic warfare, especially as this going more and more digital and connected, is another area of investment to strengthen our products or disrupt those of our competitors. Smart sensing is the third field of interest, as smart weapons means smart sensors. We cannot talk of sixth generation missiles without talking about their sensors, so we are investing heavily also here.”

Our meeting with H.E. Faisal Al Bannai could not end without a comment on IDEX exhibition: “I think it has been an amazing exhibition, saying that we have been busy is an understatement, and we can see it in the number of visitors it has attracted. We are partners with IDEX, we will double down on next IDEX, and we are proud of it.”

Photos courtesy Edge and P. Valpolini