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Spotlight on remote-controlled aircraft

posted on 26/02/2009: 2372 views

UAE firms have taken advantage of the region's biggest defence gathering to show off a range of sophisticated remote-controlled aircraft built in Abu Dhabi.

Under a camouflage netting, Abu Dhabi Autonomous Systems Investments (ADASI) displayed a mini-helicopter outfitted with a camera that can take off, fly a pattern at up to 185km/h, and land, all without prompting from an operator. ADCOM, a major producer of drones and unmanned craft, displayed models with cameras that are assembled at its plant in Musaffah.

Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) have been used extensively in the US campaign against al Qa'eda, where US Predator aircraft have gathered intelligence and fired rockets at suspected members of the group. Military experts say UAVs will play an increasingly important role in warfare because they can gather intelligence at lower cost and without putting a pilot at risk.

The production of UAVs is also expected to play a key role in the growth of a high-tech defence industry in the UAE.

Ali al Dhaheri, the general designer and chief executive of ADCOM, which has produced UAVs for 15 years, says the UAE is now in a position to take a leading role in production of the aircraft.

"This one puts Predator in second place,” he said, gesturing towards a large white craft called Smart Eye, on display this week at the International Defence Exhibition and Conference (IDEX). "We have the know-how, the general design is from the country.”

The Smart Eye, a propeller-driven UAV carrying a high-tech camera, has a top speed of 220km/h and can operate for 125 hours before refuelling. The aircraft's body and most of its parts were built at ADCOM's facility in Musaffah, Mr. al Dhaheri said.

"We are known in the market,” he said, noting that the UAE had joined the US and Israel as leading producers of sophisticated UAVs.

Mr. al Dhaheri's craft are in operation with the UAE Armed Forces and other militaries, but he declined to say how many craft he sold each year, or to name buyers.

Officials in the UAE Armed Forces have said UAVs would play an important role in guarding the nation's borders and critical infrastructure.

ADCOM was joined two years ago in the domestic UAV sector by Abu Dhabi Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Investments. The company was started by Mubadala Development, an Abu Dhabi Government investment unit, in 2007 and entered into a joint-venture agreement with Austria-based Shiebel to modify the firm's Camcopter S100 aircraft.

About 60 modified Camcopters have been produced at a facility on Al Dhafra airbase and are in use by the UAE Armed Forces and several private firms.

Abu Dhabi Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Investments was transferred to Tawazun Holding last week, and rebranded under the name of ADASI.

ADASI declined to make its executives available for comment, but the company put forward a mission statement this week saying it wants to "acquire a leading position in the autonomous systems market through a combination of joint ventures, acquisitions and local development with the ultimate goal of having a self-sustaining industrial base”.

DASI indicated it was pursuing several types of unmanned vehicles, including land and sea craft.

The market for UAVs is expected to double in the next 10 years to US$8.7 billion (Dh31.95bn), according to estimates by Teal, a US defence analysis firm.

The bulk of demand would continue to come from the US, which would account for 61 per cent of procurement spending in the sector in the next decade, Teal said. – The National


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