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Monthly Defense News Recap – February 2023

In February 2023, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) kicked off its International Defence Exhibition (IDEX) and Naval Defence Exhibition (NAVDEX) conferences in Abu Dhabi. This month’s recap reviews several of the major or uniquely interesting news pieces to have emerged from these events.

UAE’s EDGE Group Reveals New In-House Drones

The Emirates’ homegrown defence conglomerate, EDGE Group, added new projects to its growing – and increasingly sophisticated – portfolio of drones.

“Jeniah” UCAV

Arguably, the newly revealed “Jeniah” unmanned combat aerial vehicle (UCAV) was the standout design at the EDGE Group pavilion. Marketed with a range of 1,000 km and a payload of 450 kg, the Jeniah could form the basis of an Emirati loyal wingman drone.

Like other loyal wingman projects emerging around the world (such as the Kratos Valkyrie and Bayraktar Kizilelma, among others), the Jeniah sports a stealthy, low-observable design with an internal payload bay catered for air-to-air missiles (AAM) and small air-to-surface precision-guided munitions.

Air Truck Logistics Drone

Another of EDGE Group’s unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) projects is the “Air Truck.

Just as the name suggests, the Air Truck is logistics support drone capable of carrying a payload of 500 kg up to a maximum range of 360 km. It can cruise at 120 km/hour.

EDGE Group is marketing the Air Truck as a strategic logistics support asset capable of supplying troops in remote areas and providing emergency medical supplies (and potentially patient airlifting capability).

While EDGE Group did not disclose when the Jeniah and Air Truck will enter service, these projects speak to the Emirati company’s growing capacity to produce high-tech solutions.

Interestingly, when EDGE Group was formed back in 2019, its mandate was to “disrupt” the “antiquated military industry.” Its goal was to deliver novel solutions, but with faster development turnaround and at lower cost than the traditional competition.

In 2019, drones were not singled out as one of EDGE Group’s target clusters. However, like many new and emerging defence industry entrants around the world, EDGE Group is aggressively focusing on them. The company also bought a majority stake in Milrem Robotics based out of Estonia. In turn, EDGE Group also showcased its progress along the unmanned ground vehicle (UGV) front with the THeMIS-series.

From loitering munitions to UAVs to now jet-powered fighter UCAVs, the Emirati defence contractor has formed a competitive portfolio. Aside from its domestic users in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), it will be interesting to see how EDGE Group grows its overseas market share.

Pakistan Markets Improved Shahpar-II Block-II MALE UAV

Pakistan’s Global Industrial & Defence Solutions (GIDS) has also begun promoting an improved variant of the Shahpar-II UAV – i.e., the Shahpar II Block-II.

Revealed in 2021, the Shahpar-II was developed by the National Engineering and Scientific Commission (NESCOM) as a multi-mission UAV capable of air-to-ground strike and surveillance missions. It is among a number of domestically-built and foreign-ordered UAVs entering service with the Pakistani military.

Compared to the original variant, the Shahpar II Block-II seems to offer improved service/flight ceiling and endurance performance, especially in its armed configuration role.

When armed, the initial version offered a service ceiling of 18,000 ft and endurance of 7 hours. However, the weaponized Block-II provides an endurance of 12 hours and service ceiling of 21,000 ft. Interestingly, the Block-II also offers substantially more overall range (with SATCOM) compared to the Block-I as well, i.e., 1,500 km compared to the initial variant’s 1,050 km…

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Italy’s Fincantieri Markets S800 Submarine to Pakistan

With multiple OEMs now openly marketing their solutions, it seems that the Pakistan Navy’s (PN) shallow water attack submarine (SWATS) program is now catching momentum.

Through 2021 and 2022, the PN had openly stated that it was seeking a new SWATS to replace its legacy Cosmos-series miniature submarines. However, the PN did not disclose the status of its SWATS program(s) or which OEMs it was working with to secure its new boats.

By late 2022, it had appeared that Turkey’s STM was leading the race with a custom variant of its STM 500 submarine design. However, reports have emerged that Italy’s Fincantieri is still promoting its own SWATS design, the S800, to the PN. Thus, it is possible that the PN has not yet made a decision, though it may be nearing one for some time this year…

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Malaysia Inks FA-50 Light Fighter Order from South Korea

The Royal Malaysian Air Force (RMAF) has signed a $920 million USD deal with Korea Aerospace Industries (KAI) for 18 FA-50 light combat aircraft.

KAI’s FA-50 and Hindustan Aeronautics Limited’s (HAL) Tejas were the finalists for the RMAF’s light fighter requirement, which laid out plans for 36 new jets. The tender had also included the JF-17 Thunder, which is co-produced by the Aviation Industry Corporation of China (AVIC) and Pakistan Aeronautical Complex.

Under the deal, KAI will supply the RMAF with the FA-50 Block-20. The Block-20 is an improved variant of the platform capable of deploying both air-to-air missiles and precision-guided air-to-surface weapons…

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