The United Arab Emirates Edge Group, one of the world’s leading advanced technology and defense organizations, has conducted a controversial takeover of Estonia’s Milrem Robotics which is heavily supported by the European Union’s defense robotics industry.
A leading United Arab Emirates (UAE) defense and security conglomerate, Edge Group, recently took over most of Milrem Robotics’ shares, spurring numerous investigations throughout the EU.
EU concerns raised alarms that defense cooperation projects intended to advance European security interests could be used by the Emirate group, businesses, and governments to extract knowledge and exert influence.
In a recent interview, Edge Group CEO and managing director Mansour AlMulla quashed speculations on the Milrem takeover, pointing out that the conglomerate is “country-agnostic” in its acquisitions.
Almulla underscored Edge’s excellent relationships with country partners, including Russia, China, and other countries. Statements like this certainly pique interest in Western nations. He continued to state that Edge cooperates with most “big players,” including Raytheon, Lockheed Martin, Airbus, MBDA, and other countries.
“We have great relationships with a lot of players, and we’ll continue to look at that, but we’re not going to go make a selection based on the country or tag,” he added. “If players are available to tie up, to join forces with, and accelerate our timetable, we go for it.”
Edge Acquisitions And Investments
The Emirati conglomerate added that EDGE is eyeing different investments and different targets. However, his company will not be “very aggressive” in acquisitions; it will be on guard, looking for “sweet spots” when supporting its development program.
“These are very exciting opportunities that we recently announced. So the investment in Milrem covers a couple of RCVs — robotic combat vehicles or remote control vehicles — as well, and we are very excited about these because these are capabilities that can be modular so that we can implement it in different cases [for] land, sea or air.”
“They try to onboard some of these capabilities into other products that we currently have. And at the same time benefit from the great strides they already have created over the last few years.”
The Main Focus of Edge Group
According to AlMulla, the main focus of Edge Group will be on developing advanced technologies such as Artificial Intelligence (AI), robotics, and automation.
He said these technologies are essential in modern warfare and will likely play an increasingly important role in future conflicts.
Furthermore, heavy concentration on autonomous systems will enable Edge to stand out from its competitors by providing unique services that can be used to enhance existing military capabilities or create new ones altogether.
“We’re looking at modern warfare in a different way than how you used to look at it. Electronic warfare and autonomous systems are becoming more, kind of, competitive when it comes to modern warfare, [and] our focus from day one has been on technologically advanced systems as opposed to conventional ones.”
“The niche we want to be a part of is autonomous systems, electronic warfare and smart weapons. These are predominantly our [focus areas]. These are very important because they bring additional advantage when it comes to these solutions and providing [an] upper hand in the modern [age].”
“We are trying to advance those capabilities as such, and we have come a long way. We’ve seen advancements in the number of offering products. You know, we started off with about 10-15 products and today we are talking about 110 products. Some of them are in development, some of them are already produced in huge numbers.”
“We have many drones including hunter swarming drones, and now it’s more about making them smarter. So, the swarming capabilities and artificial intelligence machine learning are part of what we want to introduce with time. We are making good progress when it comes to these capabilities.”
Edge Investments In Western Firms Like Milrem Robotics
Another part of AlMulla’s corporate strategy involves investment in Western firms like Milrem Robotics which specialize in developing autonomous platforms for military applications.
The Arabian business leader pointed out that this move demonstrates Edge’s commitment to developing innovative solutions for military operations while also taking advantage of existing technologies developed by other parties that can be used as building blocks for their projects.
Edge’s investments allow them to access cutting-edge technology and gain insight into how other companies are approaching similar projects, which can help them refine their strategies in the future.
“When it comes to building fighter jets, if there are ways to cooperate on sub-systems, like reconnaissance ISR and others, we definitely look at [partnerships],” says Almulla. “From our perspective, I am not familiar with the details of the program, but we’re more than open to work with our partners. We are not [currently] in negotiations with Rosobornexport for the Checkmate co-production.”
Observers note that Almulla’s corporate strategy appears sound from both short-term and long-term perspectives.
By investing heavily in advanced technologies such as AI, robotics, and automation while still collaborating with foreign partners, Edge Group can create powerful synergies between its two core pillars: internal development and external collaboration.
The EU Commission Concern
On the other hand, the EU Commission’s concern continues regarding the impact on the eligibility of acquired entities for EU funding, especially when a non-EU country has taken over most of Milrem’s shares.
“An acquisition by a third-country-controlled entity could be contravening the security and defense interests of the EU and its member states,” says an EU spokesperson.
Milrem’s defense and security efforts are heavily intertwined with the EU’s interests, so ownership changes “trigger an assessment by the commission.”
Other observers explain that the EU Commission’s concern is borne from the organization’s decision late last year to place the UAE on its blacklist, citing the Emirates’ facilitation of money laundering, wrote a former British Ambassador to the UAE.
According to Anthony Harris, former British Ambassador to the UAE, this comes after the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) -the G7-created group — placed the UAE on its “grey” watchlist in early 2022.
The Commission warned the UAE that they needed to make fundamental improvements in monitoring illegal financial flows and tighten their compliance rules in areas prone to abuse, such as the trade in gold, precious stones, and real estate.
Supposed “EU Heavy-Handing” on UAE Blacklisting
Harris expressed disappointment with the EU Commission singling out the UAE as “unfair and hypocritical.”
“As members of the G7 and EU will be aware, the UAE has made enormous strides in recent years. Within two decades, it has become one of the largest trading hubs in the Middle East and is an emerging power in a turbulent region. The Emirati authorities have made considerable efforts to cooperate with international bodies and demonstrate that they can apply rigorous standards in the commercial and financial sectors,” he said.
UAE presidential adviser Ahmed Ali Al Sayegh also declared UAE’s action plan to meet the FATF’s requirements so that its regional countries will be removed from the Commission’s grey list as soon as possible.
Meanwhile, the former British Ambassador also pointed out that the UAE took positive steps in response to demands of the FATF by establishing an Executive Office for Anti-Money Laundering (AML) and Counter-Terrorist Financing (CTF).
“The UAE has taken several administrative steps to comply with the demands of the international community. The Emirates have strengthened their legislation to combat money-laundering and terrorist financing. They have set up an AML Task Force, led by the Foreign Minister, with the aim of improving coordination between the seven Emirates and bringing them all up to the same standards.”
“Among other things, this Task Force has created a register of beneficial owners of UAE companies, and made this available to international organisations including the FATF. In fact, the FATF reported a few days ago that the UAE had demonstrated significant progress in implementing its FATF action plan over the past year.”
“The Emirates have also tightened the regulations governing trade in gold and precious stones and brought dealing in real-estate under the federal AML system. Another sign of progress is the introduction of VAT in 2018 and the new corporation tax, which is currently being implemented.”
“The UAE government is making a major effort to modernise the economy and bring it more into line with international practice. The government is keen to demonstrate at COP28, which is due to be held in Dubai next November and December, that they are key participants in the world-wide drive to reduce carbon emissions.”
Harris further contended that while “the UAE is not shy to admit that it has a lot of work to do in implementing stricter rules in all sectors and all Emirates, they have shown a great deal more openness and transparency than most of the other states currently on the black and grey lists.”
He pointed out that the UAE has growing clout in the Arab world and that “a policy of cooperation with the Emirates would be smarter than stigmatizing them in these troubled times.”