The Italian-built corvette Abu Dhabi entered service in late 2012. A United Arab Emirates company, Etihad Ship Building, expects this year to open negotiations with the UAE Navy 'for a more developed' Abu Dhabi-class vessel, a company official said. (Christopher P. Cavas/staff)
DUBAI — Having honed their skills on homegrown contracts, United Arab Emirates shipyards are seeking sales from their Arabian Gulf neighbors.
Over the past five years, the UAE has become the gulf’s leading hub for naval shipbuilding, as well as the maintenance, repair and overhaul of warships. Two of the biggest reasons are Abu Dhabi Ship Building (ADSB) and Etihad Ship Building (ESB), said Matthew Hedges, military analyst for the Institute for Near East and Gulf Military Analysis (INEGMA), based here.
“The UAE naval industry is a leading player in the region, with ADSB and Etihad Shipbuilding contributing a large amount to indigenous capabilities,” he said. “Other [Gulf Cooperation Council] countries can’t match the UAE capabilities.”
Another growing company is Al Seer Marine, which is becoming known for its unmanned surface vehicles.
Now the companies are touting their wares to neighboring countries.
Potential regional customers for ADSB’s flagship Baynunah corvette include the Saudi Navy, which has embarked on a US $20 billion expansion program and is said to be considering the purchase of up to a dozen new warships.
ADSB also hopes for more sales to Kuwait. In February 2013, ADSB signed contracts to supply the Kuwaiti Navy with two 64-meter landing craft, one 42-meter landing craft and five 16-meter composite fast landing craft.
Established in 1996, ADSB initially focused on naval repairs and refits, then expanded to build sophisticated warships. Today, it handles the construction, repair and refit of naval, military and commercial vessels, and has an order book that tops $1 billion.
“Through partnerships with international players, the UAE has been able to construct some of the world’s most advanced ships, with the marquee product being the Baynunah-class corvette,” Hedges said.
The UAE launched the Baynunah class with a January 2004 order for a new class of multipurpose missile corvette. Two of six under contract have been delivered, the latest in February.
The 70-meter vessels were designed in collaboration with Constructions Mecaniques de Normandie (CMN) of Cherbourg, France, as a derivative of CMN’s BR70 70-meter corvette design.
The Baynunahs will mainly be used for patrol and surveillance, minelaying, interception and other anti-surface warfare operations in territorial waters and exclusive economic zones. The vessels are to be the world’s largest steel-hulled vessels that use waterjets for propulsion.
Built on a deep-V hard-chine hull, the corvette has a shallow draft and a stealthy superstructure, a helicopter landing deck and a hangar. It accommodates a crew of 55.
Etihad Ship Building — established in 2010 as a joint venture between Italian shipbuilder Fincantieri, Al Fattan Shipyard and Melara Middle East — also is looking to build on a successful 2013.
“On different fronts, Fincantieri and Etihad Ship Building have started negotiations with different gulf countries, including Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Iraq,” said Achille Fulfaro, ESB’s general manager. “For Qatar, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia in 2014, the negotiations will start and we will go in to deep analysis of their requirements, and we hope to create the conditions for production.”
“We expect also to start negotiations [with the UAE Navy] on a new Abu Dhabi class, for a more developed new ship in that class,” he said.
Fulfaro said ESB will base its services and production at its facilities in Abu Dhabi.
“We consider Etihad Ship Building as the lead in the gulf region, so we are making the relevant investments to be ready to produce more vessels in 2014,” he said.
But Fulfaro said his company is open to discussing new joint ventures or other work-sharing conditions.
Last year, ESB delivered two Falaj-class stealth offshore patrol vessels and an Abu Dhabi-class stealth corvette to the UAE Navy. It also won a €100 million (US $138 million) contract for services, logistics and maintenance of combatant vessels in the UAE, Fulfaro said. Last year, the company signed a contract with the Iraqi Navy as well for the maintenance of four patrol vessels at ESB.
“We signed the services contract, and Fincantieri delivered the first Falaj-class and Abu Dhabi-class vessels within the right timeframe and budget,” he said. “The trials phase has been completed with the complete satisfaction of the client, and now we expect to close negotiations on further Falaj- and Abu Dhabi-class vessels” for the UAE Navy.
The negotiations on the Falaj program are expected to be completed quickly, he said.
Among ESB’s products is the Falaj-class patrol vessel. Based on the Italian Coast Guard’s Diciotti class, it can handle a variety of missions, including patrol, surveillance, and land and surface attacks. It is also equipped to fight off air and surface weapons.
Another is the Abu Dhabi-class corvette, based on the design of the Italian Navy’s four Commandante-class vessels. The Abu Dhabis are 88 meters long and displace 1,650 tons.
To be crewed by about 70, each vessel can reach 25 knots, or deliver a range of more than 3,000 nautical miles at 14 knots.
Weapons on the corvette include two 30mm Marlin weapons stations and a 76mm naval gun.
Unmanned Surface Vessels
Hedges, the INEGMA analyst, said Al Seer Marine has drawn international recognition for its three types of unmanned surface vessels (USVs).
Useful for ISR, border protection and port security, the first are expected to deploy in UAE ports this year, he said.
“There is a potential in the future to arm them to protect offshore rigs and illegal smuggling,” he said.
The three variants are called Sea Serpent, Oscar and Bravo.
Sea Serpent is a 3-meter, 320-kilogram vessel about the size of a large jet ski. It has a maximum speed of 50 knots and operates on one petrol engine. Used for security around VIP yachts, they also were designed for harbor surveillance and port security.
Bravo is a rigid inflatable boat based on the Finnish-built Boomeranger that can be operated either as a remote or a piloted boat.
Oscar, an 11-meter, 6,500-kilogram boat that runs on two 500-horsepower diesel engines with water jet propulsion, is used for security patrols and is equipped with computers, sensors and software to detect and process data.
“The boats are remote-controlled through a command-and-control station, which is on land or a mother ship at sea, and are fitted with some of the most advanced robotics and surveillance equipment,” Matthew Tracy, Al Seer Marine’s USV project manager, told local media.
“Three or four boats can be controlled and used by two operators at once instead of using between 12 and 16 crew,” Tracy said.
If fitted with satellite communications gear, he said, the boats can be controlled from anywhere in the world. ■