Idex 2021: UAE's Edge eyes 15% revenue growth in 2021 and new export markets, CEO says

Exclusive: The Abu Dhabi-based defence conglomerate will focus on new markets in Asia, Africa, Eastern Europe and South America

Faisal Al Bannai, chief executive of Edge. The company will collaborate with Israel to develop an advanced counter unmanned aircraft system. Saher Mousa / Edge
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UAE defence conglomerate Edge plans to boost revenue by more than 15 per cent this year with a fresh product line-up and expansion into new export markets, its chief executive said.

The company, which recorded sales of $5 billion last year, will target markets in Asia, Africa, Eastern Europe and south America, Faisal al-Bannai, Edge group chief executive and managing director, told The National on Thursday.

A product mix including missile technology and loitering ammunition will help drive its revenue targets in 2021.
"Between 2021 and 2023, we see healthy growth due to a line-up of products that we've announced," Mr Al Bannai said on the sidelines of the International Defence Exhibition and Conference (Idex). "We're going to have healthy growth of above 15 per cent in 2021."

Abu Dhabi-based Edge, through its Halcon unit, will supply the UAE's first locally manufactured air defence missile system to Germany's Rheinmetall. The move is part of a push by the Gulf country to develop a domestic defence industry to produce military equipment locally, reduce reliance on imports and create jobs.

Edge's electronic warfare products – such as a jammer for improvised explosive devices and GPS spoofers – will be a major driver of sales growth this year, Mr Al Bannai said. The company is also marketing upgraded armoured vehicles by its Nimr unit while new boats by its subsidiary Abu Dhabi Ship Building can cater to countries with large coastal areas to protect, he said.

Edge specialises in building advanced technology for weapons systems, cyber protection and electronic warfare with the 25 companies under its umbrella. This includes developing drones, UAVs and smart defence equipment.

Its advanced technologies "can compete very strongly with players that are out there in the market," he said.

In 2021 and 2022, Edge aims to expand its presence in international markets.

"Our core today is serving our armed forces but we’ve been engaging with various markets and clients that are buying some of our solutions," Mr Al Bannai said. "During this year and the next year we will be expanding our footprint."

To that end, Edge is "focused on parts of Asia, we are focused on various parts of Africa and Eastern Europe countries – and there is a big opportunity there – and some opportunities in south America."

Small arms maker Caracal, part of the Edge group, already exports its products to Indonesia, India and South Korea with plans for new global markets.

Following the normalisation of ties between the UAE and Israel last year through the Abraham Accords, Edge is in talks to explore opportunities in advanced technologies with the country.

"We have various discussions with companies in Israel ... and we have a number of cooperations with them and at the right time we will make few announcements in this regard," he said.

Edge also expects to be part of the supply chain for Lockheed Martin's F-35 military jets when the US sale of the planes to the UAE is completed.

"Whether the F-35 or any other deals happen, I am sure as the key local industry, we will be involved in various parts of the ecosystem," Mr Al Bannai said.

The UAE ambassador to Washington Yousef Al Otaiba said earlier he is confident the sale of F-35 jets would go through after a review by President Joe Biden's administration of some pending arms sales to US allies.

Asked if there are any plans to float the company, Mr Al Bannai said Edge is not focused on an initial public offering (IPO).

"The focus is to build the right capability and build our sovereignty in the country and build a company that can compete at the international stage," he said.

For its pipeline for new products, Edge will continue to expand its portfolio of products in the categories of electronic warfare, missiles and autonomous capabilities, he said.

The conglomerate has plans for drone manufacturing platforms and has ambitions beyond local production of parts.

"As Edge, we are not in the business of assembly of other people’s products. We are not in the 'just let’s put parts together and be a back office warehouse'. We are our own OEM and that means we are developing our products for our solutions," Mr Al Bannai said. "We can team up with someone where we integrate our products and their products but definitely we are not in the assembly of other people’s products. That is in my mind a lower category of provider in that regard."

To achieve these ambitions as a manufacturer, Edge says it is well-positioned to attract highly-skilled talent thanks to its investments in technology, a roadmap for growth, openness to ideas "pushing the limit in advanced technology" and being in a country that has the infrastructure to attract expats, he said.