Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi unveils one of Middle East's biggest defence groups

'Edge' integrates more than 25 government-owned and independent entities and will employ more than 12,000 people

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A new defence conglomerate for developing advanced technology for weapons systems, cyber protection and electronic warfare was announced in Abu Dhabi on Tuesday, combining more than 25 state-owned and independent companies.

Edge was inaugurated by Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces.

It will form partnerships with world-leading equipment makers and defence contractors to speed up innovations against cyber attacks, drones, the spread of misinformation and other threats to security in the UAE and abroad.

“The solution to address hybrid warfare lies at the convergence of innovations from the commercial world and the military industry," said Faisal Al Bannai, chief executive and managing director of Edge.

"Established with a core mandate to disrupt an antiquated military industry generally stifled by red tape, Edge is set to bring products to market faster and at more cost-effective price points."

Technology has rapidly transformed the modern battlefield. Two drone attacks on Saudi Aramco production facilities in Saudi Arabia in September pulled more than half of the world's largest crude exporter's production temporarily offline.

With persistent tension, demand for military equipment is increasing defence spending worldwide.

But research and development spending in the aerospace and defence sector has lagged behind other technology-intensive industries such as health care and electronics.

It is dominated by the US, which accounted for more than half of the $22.1 billion (Dh81.17bn) invested in research and development in aerospace and defence last year, professional services company Strategy& says.

The relatively small investment and dominance of the US mean there are huge opportunities for growth and innovation in the sector.

The Middle East is a key region to contribute to the industry’s performance in the near-term, says Deloitte, alongside China, India, France, Japan and the UK.

The first phase of Edge’s formation will bring together the subsidiaries of government-owned Emirates Defence Industries, Emirates Advanced Investments and Tawazun Holding.

It will integrate more than 25 companies and employ more than 12,000 people.

Among the entities coming under Edge are small arms maker Caracal, precision-guided systems companies Al Tariq and Halcon, and Adasi, an autonomous systems and drone developer.

"The future of warfare is obviously more technical in nature and unconventional," said Dr Theodore Karasik, a senior adviser at Gulf State Analytics in Washington.

"It is necessary for the Emirates to move forward in this arena on its own."

Dr Karasik compared Edge to America's Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency.

Mr Al Bannai, formerly a managing director at UAE cybersecurity company DarkMatter, was chosen for the role “based on his start-up background and proven track record in leveraging emerging technologies to expand business opportunities at home and abroad”, Edge said.

The new company will focus on autonomous devices such as drones, the Internet of Things, advanced propulsion systems, robotics and smart materials, as well as artificial intelligence.

“Edge will help us to transform our domestic capabilities while growing our engagements on defence and security exports,” said Tareq Al Hosani, chief executive of Tawazun Economic Council.