KARACHI: The UAE was seeking armed Predator drones from the US in 2004, secret US diplomatic cables revealed. Although UAE officials claimed they needed them “to control [the UAE`s] long land and maritime borders”, it is not altogether clear from the cables and can only be speculated why the Emirati authorities needed armed unmanned aircraft and who the real target for such long-range weapons systems might be.
A previously unpublished secret cable dated July 28, 2004 details a meeting in Abu Dhabi between then US CENTCOM commander General John Abizaid and UAE Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammad bin Zayed bin Sultan al Nahyan, who also serves as chief of his country`s armed forces. Among discussions of other matters regarding regional security, Sheikh Mohammad bin Zayed “reiterated his requirement for an armed Predator UAV [unmanned aerial vehicle]” and “expressed disappointment that US appeared ready to offer only an unarmed version.”
The US eventually declined to sell Predators to the UAE, after which the UAE continued to approach other countries for UAV systems. The UAE also set up the “Abu Dhabi UAV Investment Company” in February 2007, and managed to produce its first drone, called Smart Eye, in 2010, which is considered to have a longer range and endurance than even the Predator. Smart Eye is designed to fly 135 hours without refuelling.
Interestingly, the meeting between Sheikh Mohammad and Gen Abizaid also revealed that the UAE already had been using drone technology since the first Gulf War.