From unmanned to space tech, Qatar’s Barzan eyes new investments, ‘strengthening’ what its got

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Spin Launch stand at Barzan Holdings booth in DIMDEX 2024

A display by the American firm SpinLaunch at DIMDEX 2024 in Qatar. (Breaking Defense)

DIMDEX 2024 — Qatar’s Barzan Holdings may be on the lookout for international collaboration on high-tech projects, like other Middle East enterprises, but a senior company official told Breaking Defense that the firm’s immediate future is about cementing the investments it’s already made in platforms like unmanned vehicles, counter-UAS solutions, command and control systems and ammuntion.

“We have built a good portfolio in the last seven years, and we are planning to strengthen this portfolio in these sectors,” deputy CEO Mohammad Al Marri told Breaking Defense in an interview here at DIMDEX in Qatar. “We are not planning to diversify since what we have right now is competent enough. Our focus for the next five years is to ensure capability and sustainability for our platforms.”

Since its inception in 2016, state-owned Barzan Holdings has typically kept a low profile, except when the biannual DIMDEX defense expo comes around and the company makes its presence known. At this edition of the show the firm displayed a number of platforms under development, some in advanced stages.

Al Marri said the company is focused on three main pillars to build up national defense capabilities in Qatar: strategic procurement, investment in defense technology, and research and development capabilities.

And while the future may be all about consolidation, part of that R&D effort can include some gambles in the future of defense, including what Al Marri said was a “co-investment” from Barzan into US-based space startup SpinLaunch.

The American firm has tied its success to a novel method of getting satellites into space worthy of the company’s name: spinning them up to dizzying speeds on the ground before flinging them heavenward.

“It is a new invention [to be] able to launch satellites into the space without rockets, by using electricity. It is a co-investment, and we are working together with them [on] the R&D project, and the first launch is expected in 2028,” Al Marri said.

A representative for SpinLaunch at DIMDEX confirmed the Qatari investment but said they could not provide details.

“We’re excited to have them join as a key strategic investor to accelerate our joint commitment to revolutionizing the entire space economy,” SpinLaunch said in a statement. It also clarified a 2028 launch target.

“In addition to developing our innovative kinetic launch system, we’ve continued to add to our disruptive tech stack of end-to-end space solutions across launch, satellites, and services,” the company said. “We are also actively advancing the orbital launch system site permitting and site development work, so that we can begin construction and deploy constellations of satellites into orbit beginning in 2028.”

At Barzan Holdings stand here at the show, SpinLaunch is exhibiting a model of an orbital launch system including a vacuum chamber, hypersonic tether and an exit tunnel. The SpinLaunch representative here told Breaking Defense that the firm had nine test flights internally and the tenth was its first test flight with partner payload from NASA, Airbus, Cornell University and the firm Outpost. (Qatar isn’t the only government betting on SpinLaunch: the company received a contract with the US Defense Innovation Unit back in 2019.)

Meanwhile, Barzan has its sights set on other key defense areas in 2024 and beyond.

Counter-UAS And International Investments

Barzan has a handful of stands here at DIMDEX, and one, the Qatari firm’s partnership with Germany’s Rheinmetall, called Rheinmetall Barzan Advanced Technologies, played host to counter-unmanned aerial systems next to unmanned ground vehicles UGVs, radars and jammers.

Al Marri told Breaking Defense that Barzan signed a contract with Qatar air defense forces last year for the cUAS system.

“The challenge was to integrate capabilities such as the soft kill, detectors, identification,” Al Marri said, highlighting that the platform also has “hard kill” capabilities and is now under operational trials.

“We are in an advanced phase of the production process itself,” he said.

Unmanned Ground Vehicles beside the counter-UAS system at Rheinmetall Barzan Advanced Technologies at DIMDEX 2024 in Qatar. (Breaking Defense)

Al Marri added that initially the firm has produced four systems that it is expecting to deliver within 2027 — each fully produced in Qatar.

Elsewhere, Barzan Holdings has been investing heavily in different firms around the world, like UK-based aircraft developer firm Aeralis and Turkish armored vehicles company BMC, in which Al Marri said Barzan owns just under half the shares. He described it as a “strategic partnership.”

BMC’s “new 8×8 is the latest version and generation. There is a huge interest from neighboring countries like Saudi Arabia, UAE, Qatar, and Turkish army,” he told Breaking Defense.

Al Marri said that BMC signed a memorandum of understanding with Saudi Arabia to localize production in Saudi Arabia. “We are also looking to open an assembly facility in Qatar,” he said.

Another Barzan company, Barzan Aeronautical, was expected to inaugurate a production facility in the US two years ago, according to Breaking Defense reporting at 2022’s DIMDEX, but that didn’t come to pass.

“The facility is still not opened yet,” Al Marri said. “There are some challenges within the investment there, but we are working toward opening it as soon as possible.” He said perhaps in the second quarter of this year.

Trends And Future Plans

Even as it looks to shore up its own investments, Al Marri said his company is not ignoring the ways defense is changing.

“The modern war is focused toward artificial intelligence, cheaper and more effective equipment and that’s what we are trying to work on, basically swarm technologies,” he said. He added that the firm is investing heavily in the human capital as well.

“We have a fully trained team toward the artificial intelligence and they are developing locally, a lot of systems,” he said.

Alongside that high-tech investment is a relatively low-tech one: ammunition.

“We are currently working with a lot of partners across the world to have a concrete proposal in order to establish a facility for large caliber [ammunitions] and we are very close to close some of these things,” Al Marri told Breaking Defense.

UPDATED 3/6/2024 at 4:50pm ET with a statement from SpinLaunch.