x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Revolutionary hunting rifle invented in the UAE

Weapon that fires one round a second steals the show on first day of Abu Dhabi's international hunting and equestrian event.

Sheikh Hamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan looks over a collection of RX Helix rifles he helped to design for Tawazun, at Adihex yesterday.
Sheikh Hamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan looks over a collection of RX Helix rifles he helped to design for Tawazun, at Adihex yesterday.

ABU DHABI // The star of the opening day of the Abu Dhabi International Hunting & Equestrian show yesterday wasn't a horse, a Saluki or even a prize falcon - it was a gun.

The RX Helix, a revolutionary hunting rifle conceived three years ago by a member of the Abu Dhabi Royal Family and created by Merkel, a German gun company wholly owned by the Abu Dhabi investment company Tawazun, is no ordinary weapon.

It has taken the time-honoured concept of the bolt-action hunting rifle to a new level, marrying 19th century tradition with 21st century engineering innovation to produce a weapon designed for rapid and accurate fire - indeed, capable of one round a second, it may even be the world's fastest bolt-action rifle.

But there is much more to the RX Helix, as the sign on the Tawazun stand at Adihex 2011 suggests: "Emirati creativity, German precision."

The rifle is the brainchild of Sheikh Hamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, chairman of the court of Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi. It will sell for between Dh20,000 and Dh120,000.

It has evolved out of a unique partnership that symbolises the emirate's determination to diversify its economy away from reliance on fossil fuels and ensure that a cadre of young Emiratis are equipped with the technical skills the nation needs for tomorrow.

Sheikh Hamed, said a spokesman for Tawazun, had wanted to see a rifle "for the 21st century" - light, easy and safe to use, capable of handling a range of calibres and which could be broken down quickly, without fuss or tools, for easy transport.

"His Highness approached us to explain his idea because we have had experience with companies involved with firearms," said a spokesman for Tawazun. "At that point we decided that out of our portfolio Merkel would be the most suitable company."

Merkel was not Tawazun's first foray into firearms. In 2007, Caracal, another of its subsidiaries, created the first gun to be made in the UAE - a 9mm semi-automatic, produced at the Tawazun Industries Park in Sweihan, which is now the service pistol of several countries, including the UAE, Bahrain and Jordan.

Merkel engineers flew to Abu Dhabi to discuss the concept with Sheikh Hamed, who later made a number of trips to Germany to help with development of the rifle. In all, the design and production process culminating in yesterday's unveiling has taken three years - and in that time young Emiratis have been gaining invaluable hands-on experience and engineering skills in Merkel's workshops.

Founded in 2007 by Abu Dhabi's Offset Program Bureau, Tawazun's brief, in the words of its chief executive, Saif Mohamed Al Hajeri, was "to develop a manufacturing capabilities portfolio that transforms Abu Dhabi into a globally recognised centre of manufacturing excellence" and, through many and varied partnerships, to "ensure technology and knowledge transfer" to the UAE.

It has developed partnerships in a number of manufacturing fields, including munitions, the automotive industry and the production of high-precision components for the oil and gas and defence industries.

One such partnership was with Merkel, a company that has been making hunting rifles in the state of Thuringia, the heavily forested "green heart of Germany", since 1893.

A spokesman for Tawazun disclosed yesterday that "we have been training and developing Emiratis in Germany with Merkel since 2008". Twenty students, studying for bachelor's degrees in mechanical engineering, have been sent to the town of Suhl each year for the past three years for a year-long foundation course.

In addition to engineering skills, "they study maths and English and are exposed to the [business] culture of timing, attitude, punctuality, neatness and all of those things for which the German culture is obviously known".

Another 20 students have just been taken on, bringing the total to 80.

The programme, said the spokesman, was a successful template for Emiratisation. "We have been quiet about it. With such programmes you have your challenges, you have a learning curve to go through, and it is good to look at it carefully. When it is mature, then you share the experience and what you have learnt with other industries in the UAE."

And next year, it will take another significant step when it will include women for the first time.

"We will start gradually, with a small number - I would say a minimum of eight - because you have to have a good group to work on different projects," said the spokesman.

Tawazun has had female trainees since the beginning, and women it has trained in-house work as technicians at its production facilities in Sweihan, operating complex, computer-controlled machine tools producing components for Tawazun projects and partners, including big players in the oil and gas, defence and automotive industries.

Now the time was right to send female trainees to Germany. "We wanted to build a track record, [to show] how we are structured for this training, how responsible we are towards it," said the spokesman. "I believe we have reached a stage where we can gain the trust and the willingness of families."

As for the RX Helix, it was "a symbol to show that Emiratis can have innovative ideas that are suitable for the international market, and how you can link between cultures".

It is also proving popular. The rifle was soft-launched in Germany last year, where it received a warm welcome from 200 invited hunters, and more than 3,000 have been sold in countries such as France, Russia, Sweden, Italy and Spain. The US is next in the company's sights.

jgornall@thenational.ae