Interview by Paolo Valpolini
“For Nimr, it is a privilege to be a part of the Platforms & Systems Cluster of Edge, a progressive and dynamic group with a wide range of capabilities,” Abraham Du Plessis, Chief Executive Officer of Nimr tells EDR On-Line. The wide variety of competencies that can be found among Edge companies enables the adoption of a system-integrated approach, allowing Nimr to offer improved solutions to its customers, he explains.
Although Edge was established only in late 2019, Nimr has already started working with some of the group companies and is seeking to extend its cooperation with others. “Working with EARTH [Emirates Advanced Research and Technology Holding] on system integration offers endless opportunities,” Du Plessis explains, citing one of the Edge Group technology champions, while Lahab, the ammunition manufacturer, will contribute to enhance the company’s testing capabilities, especially in the ballistics area. Other Edge companies that are cooperating with Nimr include EPI, specialised in precision components and precision manufacturing infrastructure, and Al Hosn, the national champion in design and production of advanced ballistic and blast protection systems.
“One of our key targets is to improve protection against weight, while keeping costs under control,” Du Plessis says, explaining that Nimr is working with technology partners mostly within the country. This is true both for opaque as well as for transparent armour, the latter based on conventional solutions, with the aim of finding production methods that enable cost saving. “Many of our vehicles have fairly large transparent surfaces, however, we are proposing to our customers options to reduce these, should their requirements allow it, in order to save weight and money,” he adds.
This is not true when considering automotive components such as propulsion elements, engines and transmissions. “Here we look at partners who produce those items in significant numbers, both for cost reasons as well as for after sales support reasons. However, in principle, we do not rule out UAE solutions.”
“We are not only looking at technologies that allow us to increase the payload,” Khaled Al Zaabi, NIMR Chief Commercial Officer tells EDR On-Line. “We are also considering increasing the on-board electrical power to cope with power-hungry systems installed in vehicles, such as for instance jammers, and to do so we are investigating higher capacity alternators as well as capacitors to be able to store power. The challenge is to remain well within the EMC/EMI (Electro Magnetic Compatibility/Interference) requirements.”
Notably, as part of its testing facilities, Nimr owns an EMC test chamber allowing it to host vehicles as well as integrated systems. “This brings us to vetronics,” Du Plessis adds, “and we aim to introduce a common electronic architecture in all of our products, which is not yet the case. We want to have it as open as possible in order to easily add subsystems.”
Nimr is also looking at improving the use of CANBUS, one of the potential areas it is considering is storing a higher volume of data to be used for predictive/reactive maintenance, thereby reducing life-cycle cost and increasing fleet availability. “We are, however, very careful in recording only metrics, avoiding the acquisition of any track of movements or deployments, and in respecting our customers’ privacy,” he explains. After sales is another field that Nimr is looking to make improvements in, and to do so it is cooperating with another Edge company, Al Taif, specialised in maintenance, repair, and overhaul services.
That said, the key jump forward in performances is linked to the protection-mobility equation, and Nimr is about to launch a new generation of vehicles. “The current Ajban and Hafeet families are what we can call 1.0 vehicles, they are the first generation of vehicles in their class,” Al Zaabi points out. The armoured version of the Ajban, the 440A (in the opening picture) launched in 2015, has already evolved into a higher performance vehicle – the 447A, unveiled at IDEX 2019. With an increase in the Gross Vehicle Weight (GVW) of around 20 per cent, the payload has more than doubled, however this is considered a 1.5 version.
“The 447A was not meant to become a product, we developed it as a prototype with greater transport capacity, seating seven soldiers instead of four, and with higher protection, to verify the impact on our current and potential future customers, and see if there was an interest and a market for a much improved version,” Al Zaabi explains, adding that the overwhelming response is leading to a Mark 2 version of the Ajban, based on a full review of capabilities that was carried out by Nimr in considering local and international customers. “The transport version will maintain the seven seats of the 447A, but not only mobility, protection, and payload will also be superior. At a better price, we are also looking at modularity in order to be able to quickly reconfigure the vehicle,” Du Plessis tells us. According to available information, an armoured carrier and a command post should be the first configurations to hit the market.
“The second-generation family will not be limited to the Ajban but is also to be extended to the Hafeet, the two vehicles sharing the same philosophy as well as a lot of common subsystems,” Al Zaabi adds. In fact, the Hafeet can be considered the stretched version of the Ajban, adding one axle, and increasing the GVW and payload, the heaviest version being the APC (Armoured Personnel Carrier), which reaches 15,000 kg with a 1,850-kg-payload and a maximum of 10 seats. A Hafeet Mark 2 is thus under development along the same specifications as the Ajban Mark 2. The unveiling of both new vehicles is expected at IDEX 2021 that is anticipated to run from 21 to 25 February in Abu Dhabi, COVID-19 permitting.
“Beside the two aforementioned vehicles, another key platform for Nimr is the Jais,” Al Zaabi explains. Actively marketed by Nimr as an MRAP (Mine Resistant Ambush Protected) vehicle in all aspects, the 6×6 configuration of this 27,000 GVW platform is capable of carrying a 5,200 kg payload and hosting up to two crew members and nine dismounts. “We carried out a benchmarking survey and consider that we are a cut above our competitors,” the Nimr CCO says. “Our engineers are putting in a lot of effort to improve both the 4×4 and 6×6 configurations and develop Mark 2 versions. Thus, completing the jump from Generation 1 to Generation 2 of the whole Nimr portfolio, and demonstrating our leading technical and engineering capabilities,” he says.
The Nimr plant located in Ajban, 40 km east of Abu Dhabi, has a production capacity of some 1,500 vehicles per year. Currently, the company is ramping up production in response to a few contracts obtained from armed forces in the Gulf Cooperation Council region. “We are increasing our efforts in Eastern Europe,” the Nimr CEO tells EDR On-Line, “another promising area being North Africa, where we will enjoy the support of Edge.”
It is worth remembering that in 2012 the UAE vehicle manufacturer signed an agreement with the Algerian Ministry of Defence that led to a joint venture to locally produce the Ajban 4×4 range of vehicles. Such forms of cooperation with potential customers are an integral part of Nimr’s offering today. The company is now ready to support customers in various ways, depending on offset requirements and local industrial capabilities.
“One of the key elements for our development perspectives is that we enjoy the full support of our shareholders, as well as that of the President of the Edge Platform & Systems cluster,” Du Plessis underlines. The company is already looking beyond the Mark 2 second generation of vehicles and is considering technology insertions in different areas. “A vehicle manufacturer who is not currently exploring hybrid propulsion is missing the boat, and therefore we are looking at the application of developed technologies to our existing vehicles,” the Nimr CEO says.
EDR On-Line understands that in-house solutions would be favoured, although the search is being extended beyond those limits. “Another interesting field is that of autonomous driving, and here we have started working with EARTH.” Edge entity is pretty active in the autonomous land systems area.
In less than 10 months, a visit to the Edge exhibition area at IDEX 2021, and more specifically to the Nimr stand, should lead to a number of very interesting discoveries.
Photos courtesy Nimr