Textron sees Gulf demand for drones, ground vehicles

Saudi Arabia was considering an order for several hundred new vehicles and seeking competitive bids to carry out an upgrade of older vehicles

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Lower oil prices and conflicts in Yemen, Iraq and Syria have focused the attention of many Gulf countries on smaller drones, ground vehicles and other short-term equipment needs, a senior Textron Inc executive said Sunday.

“Oil and the conflicts going on are making everything about what is needed here and now, versus what do we need for the future,” Textron Systems President Ellen Lord told Reuters at the Dubai Airshow. “People are much more price conscious.”

“There’s a near-term need for equipment to support the ongoing conflicts,” she said.

Lord said Kuwait was looking at a potential order of 100 wheeled vehicles and hoped to carry out vehicle trials in the desert next summer, with a contract award likely late in the year. The United Arab Emirates was looking at a similar sized order, although the timetable was less clear, she said.

Saudi Arabia was considering an order for several hundred new vehicles and seeking competitive bids to carry out an upgrade of 1,500 older V-150 vehicles Textron built in the 1980s, she said.

Iraq could also place orders for potentially hundreds of vehicles, she said.

Textron typically built such vehicles in 12 months, but could potentially accelerate that timetable and supply them to potential buyers by the summer of 2016, she said.

The company is also in discussions with Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Qatar about possible orders for its Shadow or Aerosonde unmanned aerial vehicles, or UAVs, Lord said, adding that those talks could result in orders sometime over the next year.

She said Gulf countries were looking at smaller drones to meet their intelligence, reconnaissance and surveillance (ISR) needs both for the military and border security, but there was also interest in possible orders for armed drones.

Textron was working through the licensing process for surveillance drones but had not yet requested permission to export an armed drone, she said.

The United States last week approved Italy’s request to arm its existing MQ-9 Reaper drones, only the second country after Britain to be authorized to receive armed drones.

It was not immediately clear how the government would respond to possible requests to arm smaller drones.

Lord said Textron was looking at different options, including leasing, to help make orders more affordable for the increasingly price-conscious Gulf countries which have been hammered by lower oil prices.

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