Dubai Airshow 2023: GA-ASI and Edge forge MQ-9B weapon integration partnership on future UAE drones
This article was updated on 14 November 2023 to reflect GA-ASI's clarification that the Edge weapon integration would only take place on the MQ-9B if the US and the UAE finalised the deal regarding the UAV's acquisition.
General Atomics Aeronautical Systems (GA-ASI) has partnered with Edge Group to integrate the latter company's weapon systems onto the MQ-9B SkyGuardian uncrewed platform, subjected to the UAE's ability to purchase the drones.
The agreement, announced on the first day of the Dubai Airshow 2023, came as the UAE’s deal to acquire 18 GA-ASI MQ-9Bs remained in a deadlock, and 'the partnership with Edge doesn't mean that the US and the UAE have made any decision,' a GA-ASI official told Shephard at the trade fair.
The two companies will work together to integrate precision-guided munition (PGM) and guided-glide weapon (GGW) solutions from Edge onto the SkyGuardian. C Mark Brinkley, senior director strategic communications and marketing at GA-ASI, said the company hoped its work with Edge would lead to more partnerships within the UAE defence industry.
The integration of weaponry, however, will be contingent upon the UAE–US deal related to the procurement of MQ-9B SkyGuardian.
‘Actual integration efforts with Edge would be done using future MQ-9Bs purchased by UAE,’ Brinkley told Shephard. ‘So, they are connected in that way.’
The UAE signed an agreement to purchase 50 F-35 jets and up to 18 MQ-9Bs in early 2021, but the Gulf country suspended discussions in December the same year as the US$23 billion deal has been slowed down amid concerns in the US over Abu Dhabi’s relationship with China.
GA-ASI has previously said it would try to separate the MQ-9B purchase from the fighter jet deal, and Brinkley said he thinks doing that would be ‘absolutely feasible’, but the details of that would need to be worked out between the governments of the two countries. He added that GA-ASI was ready to help to facilitate discussions as quickly as possible.
‘It would be wrong to say that announcing a partner for integrating UAE indigenous weapons implies the deal is complete,’ Brinkley explained. ‘But it is tied to the purchase deal being completed in the future in order for integration to occur, and UAE could get these indigenous weapons added as a part of that future deal.
‘But we’re also happy to just support. We’ve been a partner with the UAE for a long time…and this is one of those relationships that we think is going to last a long time.’
Once the weapons are integrated, Brinkley said, other nations would then be able to request them for their MQ-9Bs too, which the governments would have to negotiate just like any other request for weapons previously integrated.
‘Edge is really building out a very robust munitions development [and] other types of weapons system development, and they are rapidly becoming a large, global defence company,’ Brinkley said.
‘To integrate those products into [the MQ-9B] is just a logical next step in the evolution of their [activities]. Whether its [the UAE] buying an aircraft or not, it would still be a logical conversation for us.’
Brinkley noted that the partnership also marked an expansion of GA-ASI’s investments, emphasising that the UAE had been and would remain the company’s long-term partner. The UAE Armed Forces currently operates the Predator XP.
He added that GA-ASI has been known to be ‘interested’ in having conversations around integrating non-US companies’ systems onto its platforms and highlighted the UK’s Paveway and Brimstone missiles as examples.
Edge weapons identified for potential integration include the Desert Sting family of GGWs and Thunder family of PGMs from Halcon, and the Al Tariq family of modular long-range PGMs.
Brinkley said that current MQ-9B operators could also benefit from the newly announced partnership.
‘Customers of the aircraft would have now multiple options, whether it was US weapons, UK weapons, and now UAE weapons ’ he said. ‘As we move forward, other nations [could] bring their weapons and sensors too.’
Brinkley revealed that the two companies began discussing the partnership at IDEX in February in Abu Dhabi.
Shephard has approached the US DoD for comment related to the UAE F-35 and MQ-9B deals.
Shephard's Dubai Airshow 2023 coverage is sponsored by:
More from Dubai Airshow 2023 | View all news
Boeing and South Korea have solidified plans that would see Boeing UAV design and technology capabilities implemented locally by South Korean companies.
Amid escalating tensions and technological advancements in drone warfare, Ukraine has reinforced its front lines with a delivery of 5,000 indigenous drones, paralleled by Iran's revelation of the new jet-powered Shahed-238.
The updated E-99M aircraft features an updated Erieye Radar and C2 systems, as well as new EW and Identification, friend or foe (IFF) systems.
A new agreement between Leonardo, the Italian government and Slovenia has marked the procurement of a second C-27J Spartan medium tactical transport aircraft for Slovenia, following an earlier deal signed in March 2022.
Boeing's progress in the MH-139A Grey Wolf helicopter programme have marked a milestone in the transition toward low-rate initial production, following the delivery of the final test aircraft to the US Air Force.
Boeing and augmented reality training specialist Red 6 have achieved notable progress in integrating advanced technology into training aircraft.