UAE weapons maker EDGE wants in on F-35 supply chain

FILE PHOTO: EDGE chief Executive Faisal Al Bannai seen during the International Defence Exhibition in Abu Dhabi, UAE
FILE PHOTO: Faisal Al Bannai, EDGE chief Executive is seen during an interview with Reuters in the International Defence Exhibition, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates February 22, 2021. REUTERS/Khushnum Bhandari/File Photo

February 23, 2021

By Alexander Cornwell

ABU DHABI (Reuters) – United Arab Emirates’ state-owned weapons maker EDGE expects to be involved in the supply chain of Lockheed Martin’s F-35 war plane if the sale of U.S. planes to the Gulf Arab state goes ahead, its chief executive said on Tuesday.

U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration is re-examining the sale of 50 F-35 stealth jets, 18 armed drones and other military equipment approved by former President Donald Trump during his last days in office.

“Any platform that is coming to the country, we are now getting heavily involved in this supply chain in whatever component that makes sense for the client and for us,” EDGE CEO Faisal al-Bannai said at Abu Dhabi’s Idex defence exhibition.

EDGE, a $5 billion state defence conglomerate, could integrate subsystems, products and weapons, perform maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) work and also develop weapons such as missiles for the jet, he said.

EDGE and Lockheed later announced in a statement they had reached a preliminary agreement to jointly “explore industrial participation opportunities across the UAE’s aerospace and defence industry.”

The statement did not mention the F-35 or any other system.

The Gulf state, one of Washington’s closest Middle Eastern allies, was promised a chance to buy the war planes when it established formal ties with Israel last year.

EDGE was in “advanced discussion” with several Israeli defence companies about jointly funding and developing missiles and unmanned platforms, Bannai said without identifying the firms.

“Quite soon there will be announcements,” he said.

It is not clear when Washington will complete its review, though even if approved the first F-35 is not expected to be delivered for several years.

“Every country has their own process. I think they will go through their process and come to what is a right decision for them,” Bannai said of the U.S. review.

The UAE’s Ambassador to Washington Yousef al-Otaiba has said he is confident the sale would go through.

The jets are a major component of a $23 billion sale of high-tech armaments from General Atomics, Lockheed Martin Corp and Raytheon Technologies Corp to the UAE.

The F-35, the world’s most advanced war plane, would give the UAE a “huge deterrence capability” against regional foe Iran, an Arab diplomat in the Gulf told Reuters.

“The F-35 gives a lot of control over the Gulf skies. It’s a big thing. It’s a game changer for the UAE,” the diplomat said.

EDGE, tasked with supplying advanced weapons to the UAE armed forces, is focused on developing drones, unmanned vehicles, smart weapons and electronic warfare equipment rather than conventional weaponry.

“We are a small country in size and population … we are extremely focused on deploying more smarter technology that can apply a ‘force multiplier’ to our army,” Bannai said.

EDGE is developing a directed energy system, to be unveiled next year, that can be used against aerial and land threats.

EDGE announced on Tuesday it would supply Rheinmetall’s Oerlikon Skynex air defence system with a short-range interceptor missile system known as SkyKnight.

(Reporting by Alexander Cornwell; Editing by Susan Fenton)