Announced at the Unmanned Systems Exhibition & Conference (UMEX) 2024 on 24 January, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) signed a contract that represents the world’s largest combat robotics programme, according to Milrem Robotics, who will supply 20 tracked robotic combat vehicles (RCVs) and 40 THeMIS unmanned ground vehicles (UGVs).

UAE’s Ministry of Defence followed this on 25 January with the signing of the largest ever order of unmanned helicopters, purchasing 200 HT-100 and HT-750 unmanned helicopters from the EDGE defence group to add to UAE’s Vertical Takeoff and Lift (VTOL) capability. 

Record UGV deal engenders experimental operational phase

 “Initiating the world’s largest combat robotics programme with the UAE Ministry of Defence not only demonstrates the competitive edge of our solutions but also highlights the strategic value of incorporating advanced robotic systems into force structure, thereby enhancing their combat capabilities and operational efficiency,” said Kuldar Väärsi, CEO of Milrem Robotics, expressing his enthusiasm about the collaboration.

The contract with Milrem Robotics involves the provision of RCVs equipped with 30mm MK44 cannons, THeMIS Combat units fitted with 30mm M230LF Remote Weapon Stations, Indirect Fire Systems, and THeMIS Observe units with advanced radar and camera systems, including shot detection capabilities. These UGVs and RCVs are equipped with cutting-edge autonomy features, third-party payloads, and high-quality communication solutions.

Importantly, Milrem Robotics stated that the contract will include an experimentation and trial programme, led by Milrem, aimed at integrating unmanned ground capabilities into the UAE Armed Forces’ arsenal. Recent operational fielding elsewhere of UGV’s have led to criticism of them as an ‘immature technology’. 

Between 2016 and 2018, according to a GlobalData report ‘Thematic Intelligence: Unmanned Ground Vehicles 2023’, Russia conducted numerous operations tests of combat UGVs, and aside from illuminating known issues with the Russian military industrial complex, also highlighted more general issues with mobility and reliability. Networking capabilities were hindered by electromagnetic interference, dangerously affecting the UGV’s combat efficiency. While Milrem Robotics are supplying UAE with advanced autonomy features, meaningful human oversight is still reliant on a networked operator in the loop. 

UAV sales to UEA boost VTOL capabilities against regional concerns

UAE have been pursuing military UAV’s due to its involvement in Yemen, according to GlobalData’s report, ‘The Global Military UAV Market 2022-2032’.

The HT-100 and HT-750 unmanned helicopters, designed for Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (ISR) and logistics missions, are notable for their ability to transport heavy payloads while maintaining exceptional flight stability. These unmanned VTOL systems will be produced by ANAVIA, a Switzerland-based EDGE entity specialising in autonomous aerial capabilities.

“This landmark order represents the first order by the UAE Ministry of Defence for these advanced aircraft, and largest order ever for ANAVIA,” said Khaled Al Zaabi, president of platform & systems at Edge Group. He added that it is an example of EDGE’s strategy of pursuing mutually beneficial partnerships around the world to expand the scope of its technological capabilities. 

UAE’s current rotary fleet includes 167 transport and utility helicopters, all purchased between 2000 and 2023, as well as 28 Apache attack helicopters bought between 1991 and 1994, and an unknown of number RQ-1E medium altitude long endurance UAV, delivered between 2013 and 2017, according to GlobalData report, ‘UAE Armed Forces – Equipment Inventory 2023’.