ABU DHABI // A laser-guided rocket system jointly developed by Raytheon and a local Emirati company may go into production as early as the end of this year.
The Talon Laser-Guided Rocket system is fitted on to existing legacy rockets, allowing them to be much more accurate against land and air targets.
The system is being jointly developed by Raytheon and the Emirates Advanced Investments (EAI), Raytheon executives told The National yesterday at the International Defence Exhibition (Idex).
Raytheon is billing the partnership as unique. This is a weapon system being developed jointly with a foreign country, with the possibility of it being sold back to the US Armed Forces.
It is also part of Raytheon's responsibility to help develop local talent in the UAE, one of the company's highest-spending customers.
"It is the necessary precursor to be able to develop your own indigenous defence base," said Kevin Massengill, the vice president for the Middle East and north Africa at Raytheon. "It's not just about having factories out here but also having your own engineers, scientists, mathematicians trained in those fields."
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For the UAE, the Talon system can be fitted on to combat helicopters such as the nation's fleet of Apaches and Blackhawks. The UAE is also examining the possibility of fitting them on to fixed-wing aircraft.
The Talon rockets have been tested on UAE Apache helicopters to ensure that they are safe to fire, with a test range set up in the UAE.
The rockets have also been tested by firing at maximum and minimum range, and while the aircraft is moving.
The system has potential uses in combat operations in Afghanistan and for border surveillance and control.
"The sole objective is to provide precision and avoid collateral damage, and that's exactly what you need in that sort of situation," said Jim Byrne, Raytheon's laser guided rocket programme director.
Mr Byrne said that final testing of the rockets would be concluded within months, paving the way for production in the UAE.
"EAI had engineers working on the programme in the US with Raytheon engineers side by side, doing the design and then moving on to the testing phase," said Mr Byrne.
The collaboration is part of the UAE's attempt to build up an indigenous defence industry and to train Emiratis in specialist jobs, one of the stated aims of the country's defence sector.
"It puts a high-tech capability and knowledge and training in the hands of the Emirati engineers," said Mr Byrne. He added that the facilities that will assemble the laser guidance systems will be built in the UAE.