UAE establishes defence conglomerate to boost position as global innovation player

If Edge can transform into an innovation-driven defence conglomerate, there are huge possible gains for the United Arab Emirates in terms of enhanced national security and as a global tech force.
Sunday 17/11/2019
Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan (C) attends the inauguration ceremony of the new entity, known as Edge, November 5. (WAM)
A potential for lucrative exports. Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan (C) attends the inauguration ceremony of the new entity, known as Edge, November 5. (WAM)

DUBAI - The United Arab Emirates has established a government-owned defence conglomerate to position itself as a global player in advanced technologies innovation and development.

Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan, deputy supreme commander of the UAE Armed Forces, joined the inauguration ceremony of the new entity, known as Edge, which was designed to transform local defence industrial capabilities.

Edge comes as a further consolidation following the 2014 merger of state-run defence firms that established Emirates Defence Industries Company. Edge will absorb Emirates Defence Industries Company, Tawazun Holding and Advanced Investments Group — three of the United Arab Emirates’ leading defence industrial groups.

Edge will take more than 25 state-owned subsidiaries under its umbrella, employing a combined workforce of approximately 12,000 with annual revenues topping $5 billion.

Edge comprises subsidiaries across a broad spectrum of industrial focus areas and capabilities, including manufacturers of autonomous vehicles, small arms, precision-guided systems, armoured vehicles and naval vessels. Edge is to recluster its subsidiaries group along five lines: platforms and systems; missiles and weapons; cyber-defence; electronic warfare and intelligence; and mission support.

Investing big in technology innovation and prioritising artificial intelligence (AI) across its future product and service development plans, Edge has its sights set on becoming an international leader in developing robotics, advanced autonomous systems, advanced propulsion systems and smart materials for defence users.

Established “to disrupt an antiquated military industry,” Edge hopes to deliver innovative products to market “faster and at more cost-effective price points” than before, Edge CEO and Managing Director Faisal al-Bannai said. Bannai was handpicked to lead Edge, following the highly successful development of UAE cybersecurity company Dark Matter, which he founded.

If Edge can transform into an innovation-driven defence conglomerate, there are huge possible gains for the United Arab Emirates in terms of enhanced national security and as a global tech force where the potential for lucrative exports is strong.

With leading consulting firms such as PricewaterhouseCoopers estimating that AI is to contribute as much as 14% to global GDP by 2030, the United Arab Emirates sees big opportunities as industries converge around the world.

The United Arab Emirates’ economic diversification efforts have been driving expansion and acceleration of strategic programmes and initiatives from the government to position the country as an international force in technology innovation for the future.

The United Arab Emirates recently created the world’s first higher education institution dedicated to AI. The Mohamed bin Zayed University of Artificial Intelligence (MBZUAI), in Abu Dhabi’s Masdar City, will open to students next September offering master’s degrees and doctoral programmes.

UAE officials said they hope MBZUAI propels the United Arab Emirates into an international force for AI research in machine learning, computer vision and natural language processing, which have been dominated by the United States and China.

In 2017, the United Arab Emirates developed its first AI strategy, known as UAE 2031, which provided a plan for making government and public services more efficient as well as transforming strategic sectors such as education, space and renewable energy, for example, to enhance the quality of life.

The United Arab Emirates ranks in the world’s Top 20 — the highest in the Middle East — in the government AI readiness index compiled by Oxford Insights but the country has ambitions to move closer to the top.

In another pioneering move, the UAE cabinet adopted a resolution to appoint a UAE Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) ambassador — the first post of its kind in the world. With a global mandate and a mission to elevate tech diplomacy, the United Arab Emirates 4IR ambassador would function as the spearhead for government efforts in developing global partnerships to position the United Arab Emirates as a global bridge for regions as they undergo the 4IR.

Earlier this year, Dubai inaugurated the Centre for the Fourth Industrial Revolution, a ground-breaking research facility in the Middle East, in cooperation with the World Economic Forum.

Dubai’s Centre for 4IR brings the United Arab Emirates into a network of countries leading the 4IR transformation including the United States, China, Japan, Israel, India and Colombia, as well as a host of major tech leaders such as Microsoft, Amazon, Huawei and Reliance Industries.

 

8