ABU DHABI //The UAE is revamping its fleet of Blackhawk helicopters with a Dh993.5 million deal to weaponise and develop 23 of the aircraft, broadly expanding their military capabilities.
In a nod to the local defence industry, the contract was awarded to Abu Dhabi Aircraft Technologies, a local company.
The UAE announced deals worth about Dh4 billion on the second day of the International Defence Exhibition (Idex).
In a separate deal with Sikorsky, the manufacturer of the Blackhawk, UAE pilots, navigators and technicians will train on operating the helicopters in a deal worth Dh64.8m.
The UAE says the developed Blackhawk UH-60M can have a range of uses that include troop transport, humanitarian missions and military settings.
"Blackhawk is a utility helicopter, so it could be for different usages, it could be for transportation, humanitarian, or military purposes with troops," said Maj Gen Obeid al Ketbi, the spokesman for Idex.
The Blackhawks can also provide close air support to UAE forces on the ground, especially in counter-terrorism operations.
The UAE is one of the few Arab and Muslim countries with combat troops in Afghanistan. The military also announced that it will buy engines from South Africa for Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV), which are pilot-less drones, worth Dh6.3 million.
In a demonstration at Idex, photographs beamed by a drone were used to provide intelligence to teams of special forces on counter-terrorism operations, showing potential uses of the drones for the UAE military.
"The deals related to the Armed Forces are subjected to a lot of technical and operational studies," said Maj Gen al Ketbi. "We have a conviction that the development and modernisation in any field cannot be done except with modern science."
Maj Gen al Ketbi also announced a range of procurements including artillery and ammunition, early warning radars, training regimens and vests for infantry, among others, and the launch of educational programmes at the Higher Colleges of Technology in aviation and naval sciences, at the bachelor's degree level.
The moves are part of an attempt by the Armed Forces to build up its human resource capability, said Maj Gen al Ketbi.
Some of the deals were concluded just before Idex began, and some concluded during the past few days, he said. He added that the military would make more announcements on other deals in the next few days.
Maj Gen al Ketbi also reiterated that the deal for the Terminal High Altitude Air Defence system (THAAD), a missile defence system from Lockheed Martin, had not yet been completed, but he expressed optimism that the deal, which would bolster the UAE's missile defence capabilities, would be ready in the near future.
"Our negotiation team is still working on the project, and it's not yet finalised with the American side," he said. "But hopefully in the near future they will reach a final agreement on some of the terms and conditions related to the deal itself."
Maj Gen al Ketbi avoided a question on whether the UAE was nearing an agreement with France on purchasing the Rafale fighter jets, a deal that has been in the works since 2008. The deal would replace the UAE's Mirage fighter jets. The UAE has since requested technical information for the F/A-18 Super Hornet, a competitor to the Rafale.
When asked about the Rafale deal, Maj Gen al Ketbi said: "Most of the projects you heard about, the specialist teams are working on them, but it does not have to be completed during this exhibition. Anything that is completed we will announce it immediately."
Idex will end tomorrow.