ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates — Local conglomerate Edge Group unveiled 11 new unmanned and autonomous systems for intelligence and strike missions at the IDEX global weapons exhibition here.
The Emirati defense group, now composed of 20 different technology and security entities, debuted a large portfolio of “made in the UAE” products on the opening day of the International Defense Exhibition and Conference (IDEX 2023) on Monday, including many cargo-delivery aircraft.
For example, there was the rotary-wing “Airtruck,” designed for strategic logistics support such as supplying troops in remote locations, providing medical evacuation and reconnaissance. It has a payload of 500 kilograms and a maximum range of 360 kilometers at a cruising speed of 120 km/hour.
Over the last decade, many armies, especially in the West, have largely taken a wait-and-see approach to logistics drones, rushing to buy uncrewed combat and surveillance aircraft instead. But the allure has remained strong for new resupply and combat evacuation methods that keep human pilots out of harm’s way. Now, a crop of new systems claims to be ready for deployment.
The U.S. Army has experimented with the technology over the last year through the development of a fully autonomous version of the Black Hawk helicopter. In the context of Russia’s war on Ukraine, several manufacturers and organizations have sent cargo drones to support Ukrainian troops. Among this list is the UK, which has sent the heavy-lift Malloy T150 quadcopter, and U.S.-based producer Aquiline is also said to have supplied 40 Spartacus Hurricane search-and-rescue drones.
Another interesting design here was the QX6-50, another rotary-wing drone. The latest addition to Edge’s QX range, the system is capable of carrying payloads of 50 kilograms for up to 200 kilometers. The company further displayed a new unmanned combat aerial vehicle, Jeniah, with a maximum munition payload of 480 kilograms and capable of reaching a maximum speed of 1,000 km/hour.
Edge recently acquired a majority stake in the Estonia-based company Milrem Robotics, which represented the largest foreign investment in Tallinn’s defense industry. Following this transaction, the Emirati group showcased two of its cutting-edge UGVs at the event: the THeMIS Combat, which provides high-precision, direct fire support for maneuver units, and the THeMIS Observe ,built for tactical reconnaissance operations.
Another up-and-coming company Edge has shown interest in is Torino, Italy-based Sortie Cargo. The startup designs and manufactures fast cargo delivery drones in Italy. Umit Yelken, the company’s co-founder, told Defense News in an interview that the UAE group has approached them to possibly purchase the RUAV724. The final prototype of this long-range cargo aircraft is being finalized, with the hope that it will undergo its first trial flight this year.
Umit said what makes Sortie Cargo’s technologies unique is the combination of rocket engine and turbo jet engine into their systems. Regarding the weapons presented by Edge, he said, “many of their drones only use turbo-jet engines, which leads to a higher consumption of fuel and in this way decreases payload capabilities. Several also require a runway to take off or land.” In contrast, the RUAV 724 can be deployed from anywhere, reaching the same maximum speed of 1,000 kilometers per hour as the Jeniah but over a 2,500 kilometer delivery range.
In terms of maritime platforms, the Emirati group has developed, in cooperation with Abu Dhabi Ship Building, the 170-M Detector unmanned surface vessel for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance missions as well as underwater mine detection. The diesel-powered USV can be configured for either manned or unmanned operations while operating for four consecutive hours at speeds up to 40 knots silently under electric propulsion mode.
Elisabeth Gosselin-Malo is a Europe correspondent for Defense News. She covers a wide range of topics related to military procurement and international security, and specializes in reporting on the aviation sector. She is based in Milan, Italy.