Abu Dhabi drone fair offers rare look at Belarusian weapons
ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates — An unusual sight at the UMEX drone fair organized here from Jan. 23-25
ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates — An unusual sight at the UMEX drone fair organized here from Jan. 23-25 was the large booth of the Republic of Belarus.
The autocratic regime is not in the habit of attending Western trade shows, having been sanctioned by many Western nations and blocs, including the European Union, for its role in Russia’s aggression against Ukraine.
But here, while unlisted in the event’s official lineup exhibitors, a handful of Belarusian companies attended the show, showing more equipment than Russian manufacturers.
Among them was the Minsk-based, state-owned firm Belspetsvneshtechnika (BSVT), displaying the latest variant of its Sapphire grenade launching system.
Mounted on a tracked chassis the size of a shopping cart – the U.S. big-box store kind – a mock-up shown here appeared to be armed with 12 anti-tank rockets.
A company representative, who wished not to be named, told Defense News that the company began testing the system in Belarus in November. The plan is to have it serially produced by the end of 2024, after which it is expected to enter into the service of the Belarusian military.
When asked whether the company had plans to eventually supply it to Russia, the representative said that this was not being considered.
The Sapphire is available in anti-personnel, anti-tank, and multi-strike, cluster-attack configurations, among others. At the show, BSVT was marketing the weapon as a “game-changer in the modern battlefield” as well as effective for urban warfare.
The carrier vehicle is remote-controlled, and it is programmed to return to the operator autonomously if the connection is lost, according to the manufacturer.
The development of the new launcher was said to have started approximately two years ago, although it is unclear whether the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 prompted or affected its evolution.
The Sapphire was last shown at the International Exhibition of Arms and Military Machinery dubbed MILEX organized in Minsk last May, where delegates from Russia, China and Iran showed an interest, according to the vendor representative.
Belarus has backed Russia in its war against Ukraine. According to Ukrainian analysts, Moscow has used Belarusian airspace for drone and missile attacks against Kyiv and other cities.
In October 2022, the country’s president, Aleksandr Lukashenko, announced the deployment of Russian troops alongside military equipment to Belarus in response to what he called NATO provocations on the border.
Earlier this month, the defense minister of Belarus said the government would formalize new military doctrine for the use of nuclear weapons.
Elisabeth Gosselin-Malo is a Europe correspondent for Defense News. She covers a wide range of topics related to military procurement and international security, and specializes in reporting on the aviation sector. She is based in Milan, Italy.