GE hopes to win major UAE deal

Arranges an offset project and will work with Solex and the offset group to support operations

Abu Dhabi

U.S. aero-engine and avionics marker General Electric has arranged a defence offset project in the hope of winning a share of a major UAE airforce fighter deal, said to be worth up to $6 billion.

The new $42 million project, Solex Robotics Services, is a joint venture between Al Mansoori Specialised Engineering of Abu Dhabi, and the Houston, Texas-based Solex Environmental Systems.

Mohammed Al Mazrui, deputy chairman of the UAE Offsets Group, said GE had arranged the creation of the venture and would work with Solex and the offset group to support the company's operations.

He added that GE could be hoping to win some deals in the UAE, including engines and avionics for the fighter aircraft to be purchased by the UAE air force but he did not elaborate further.

The UAE has a requirement for up to 80 fighters, the largest jet deal since the purchase of 36 Mirages from France in early 1980.  The U.S., with its latest version of the F16, is competing with France for the contract.

Earlier this week three major French aircraft and arms producers, Dassault, Sneema and Thomson-CSF, announced the opening of an office in Abu Dhabi after entering a "pre-offset" alliance.

The latest U.S. project involves the marketing of a new system used in the inspection of bulk liquid storage tanks holding refined petroleum and chemical products.

The system is called Maverick, a remote, operator-controlled explosion-proof submersible robot, and operates inside tanks.  The system's most important feature is its ability to inspect the bottom of a tank holding refined product without having to take the tank out of operation.

The system also reduces worker exposure to toxic material in the tank during cleaning and inspection.  Disposal costs incurred with inspection procedures and costs of moving inventory from one storage vessel to another can be eliminated.

The use of robotics, according to Nabil Al Alawi, managing director of Al Mansoori, will also reduce the use of skilled labour in the maintenance of petroleum and chemical tanks.  Personnel required for a skilled inspection, for instance, will be cut from 40 to three.

The project is expected to start operation in the next four to six months.  The company is looking at a $170 million market with its primary target "those in the business of bulk storage" - with over 5,000 petroleum tanks in the Gulf.

Reuters adds:  The UAE expects Western companies it buys weapons from to invest in projects which would inject $3 billion into its oil-driven economy over the next seven years, an official said.