Israel’s defense giant Israel Aerospace Industries and Edge, a UAE-based advanced technology group, signed a memorandum of understanding on March 11. It is the latest in growing ties between Israel and the United Arab Emirates in the wake of the September 2020 peace deal. Since then IAI has also attended IDEX, the large defense exhibition in the UAE in February 2021. The new emerging partnership could see more Israeli defense companies working with partners in the Gulf.
The new memorandum foresees cooperation in developing advanced counter-drone solutions, or what is called C-UAE, countering unmanned aerial systems. Drones pose a growing threat, according to U.S. military leaders at Central Command. The Gulf is particularly vulnerable as the Iranian attack using drones and cruise missiles on Saudi Arabia’s Abqaiq energy facility in 2019 illustrated. Drones can be used by terrorist groups, purchased off the shelf and modified, or they can be used by more advanced powers like Iran. Hybrid militant groups, like the Houthi rebels in Yemen, use Iranian technology in their kamikaze drones.
Given the rising threat it is no surprise companies in the region are looking to improve their capabilities. The Israeli Iron Dome system and the U.S. Patriot system can confront drone threats. Other Israeli technology has been developed that combines electro-optics, jamming and radar, as well as new laser technology. These systems like Rafael’s Drone Dome and IAI’s Drone Guard are well placed to confront drone threats. Israel, a leader in making various types of drones, knows the challenge from both ends.
The new agreement is supposed to have wide ranging benefits for the region, the companies said in a statement. “Through leveraging IAI’s proven C-UAS solutions that are applied around the world to detect, identify, classify, and intercept a broad range of threats, EDGE, a young and disruptive company that has recently launched a series of Electronic Warfare solutions at a rapid pace, is leveraging its subsidiary, SIGN4L, a leading provider of electronic warfare services and solutions for national security, to collaborate with the Israeli defense manufacturer to build the tailored C-UAS Solution,” IAI noted.
Faisal Al Bannai, CEO and Managing Director, EDGE, said that in “line with the recent Abraham Accords and the UAE’s newly established cooperation and spirit of collaboration with Israel, EDGE and IAI are joining forces to deal with this growing threat.” At IAI there is also excitement.
“IAI is proud to join forces with EDGE, to provide the UAE and the wider region with a unique and advanced solution in what is a key area of expertise for IAI. We believe that this collaboration will help both companies through the transfer of knowledge and sharing of capabilities. This MoU serves as a stepping-stone for further business and strategic alliances between our countries, and will enhance cooperation for research and development and technological innovation,” said Boaz Levy, the President and CEO of IAI.
“Unmanned Aircraft Systems today are a preferred solution in building agility and resilience to the emerging challenges of asymmetric warfare. As EDGE invests extensively in autonomous capabilities, our co-development of a Counter-UAS in partnership with Israel Aerospace Industries will only help strengthen our advanced technology portfolio, and partnerships in the region and internationally,” said Bannai.
The new solution will be comprised of detection and identification using radar, optics and radio frequency. Then there will be a layer of “soft kill” solutions, such as using jamming, and then “hard kill” weapons to down the drone threat using guns, missiles or even lasers. These are the usual components of counter-drone solutions today. These are all necessary because drones can maneuver and fly slowly, and it is important to be able to locate them and classify them. For instance, drones can easily shut down an airport, which was clear from the Gatwick drone incident in 2018. Finding the drone and classifying it as a threat or something else, is essential. This needs to be done quickly as well. Many counter-UAS solutions have the ability to jam the drone’s frequency or even take it over and land it safely.
IAI is one of Israel’s largest defense companies and a world leader in aerospace. It has recently completed new loitering munition sales to several countries in Asia and is partnership with South Korea’a KAI on a loitering munition solution for helicopters. Inroads for IAI in the Gulf already began last year before the peace accord when it signed an agreement with Group 42 in the Gulf. The Edge agreement is important and symbolic. Edge is headquartered in Abu Dhabi
“It is dedicated to bringing innovative technologies and services to market with greater speed and efficiency,” the statement about the MOU noted. “EDGE offers expertise across five core clusters: Platforms and Systems; Missiles & Weapons; Cyber Defense; Electronic Warfare and Intelligence; and Mission Support.”
Seth J. Frantzman is a Jerusalem-based journalist who holds a Ph.D. from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. He is the executive director of the Middle East Center for Reporting and Analysis and a writing fellow at Middle East Forum. He is the author of After ISIS: America, Iran and the Struggle for the Middle East (Gefen Publishing) and Drone Wars: Pioneers, Killing Machines, Artificial Intelligence, and the Battle for the Future (Forthcoming, Bombardier Books). Follow him on Twitter at @sfrantzman.