Adcom Systems in bid to shoot down rivals
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An Abu-Dhabi company based in Musaffah plans to take on the world's largest defence manufacturers with a high-altitude unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) capable of flying above commercial airliner traffic for several days at a time. Adcom Systems, which has been producing unmanned target-training drones since the 1990s, is preparing to unveil its latest design for a seven-tonne surveillance UAV at the next Idex defence exhibition in Abu Dhabi in February.
"It will be very sophisticated when it is introduced," said Ali al Dhaheri, the general designer and chief executive of Adcom. "We hope to be able to show it at Idex, and will begin [flight] testing after that." The aircraft could become commercially available as early as the end of next year and would be categorised as a high-altitude, long-endurance UAV, or HALE. Although a final name has not been designated, it is provisionally called "Smart Eye 2". The original Smart Eye is a smaller UAV that is expected to undergo flight tests this year.
Marko Lukovic, the principal aerospace and defence consultant for Frost and Sullivan, said the only HALE category aircraft currently in production was by the Northrop Grumman Global Hawk, a 10-tonne UAV that has been ordered by the US, Germany and NATO. It can fly for 36 hours at an altitude of 20,000 metres and a distance of more than 25,000km. It carries sophisticated surveillance equipment and sells for between US$30 million (Dh110.1m) and $50m each, with costs easily doubling when long-term support contracts are bundled in.
"These are fairly complex systems and due to the size and money involved, you can't afford to lose. It all has to really work well from the word go," Mr Lukovic said. Adcom is one of a number of local companies to cater for the UAE Armed Forces. It has also produced many different kinds of ammunition including 9mm and 50mm calibre bullets and found success with its Yabhon series of target drones in the early 2000s, which are used by military personnel to test the country's missile and fighter jet defence systems.
The target drones are fitted with jet engines and can fly at up to 900kph, are made of lightweight composite materials and cost up to €250,000 (Dh1.12m) each. They replicate incoming missiles and are shot down by fighters or defensive missiles such as the Patriot system. Adcom's move into UAVs will see it develop products for what is expected to become the fastest-growing segment of the defence industry this year, according to a forecast from the UK-based consultancy Frost and Sullivan.
Mr Lukovic said Adcom was a growing company with high ambitions. "They have been talking about their programmes for a couple of years now but there hasn't been much development," he said. "So I am really interested in seeing their UAV and think it would be an important breakthrough in the HALE market, especially if a Middle Eastern company produces it." He said such UAVs could be in high demand in the GCC for border surveillance, anti-piracy operations and could be integrated into Gulf states' armed forces. The planned size of the Smart Eye 2 reflected Adcom's ambitions, Mr al Dhaheri said. "We are recognised now and are a big developer but we want to become one of the biggest players in the world."
Published: May 29, 2010 04:00 AM