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Qatari defense firm based in Charleston touting spy drone technology to Europe

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Barzan Aeronautical (copy)

A Textron Systems Aerosonde small unmanned aircraft system, similar to one that is being developed by Charleston-based Barzan Aeronautical. Provided

A Qatari defense firm with its headquarters in downtown Charleston is trying to drum up business for its newest airborne spy device in Europe.

Barzan Aeronautical executives toured Europe last month to tout their Nightwarden drone, which has been developed secretly in the Charleston area, according to a report this week by the Online Intelligence website. John Hardwick, the Meeting Street company's new CEO, and Christopher Ott, the firm's legal counsel, visited countries interested in stepping up their border surveillance, including Greece and Scandinavian countries close to Russia, the report states.

A Barzan spokesperson could not be reached for comment.

The Post and Courier previously reported that the company purchased an Aerosonde unmanned aircraft from Providence, R.I.-based Textron Systems. The Nightwarden drone, which can be armed, is based on the Aerosonde technology, and both companies have been production partners since 2019.

"Barzan also drew on Boeing's expertise to improve the aircraft's payload, range and ability to be armed," Online Intelligence stated. 

Barzan was formed about a month after Qatari leaders met in early 2018 with South Carolina politicians, business leaders and Boeing Co. executives at the planemaker’s 787 Dreamliner campus in North Charleston. At the time, leaders with the Qatar Investment Authority said they were looking for investment opportunities in the Palmetto State.

A white paper distributed to members of Congress by Qatar’s ambassador said Barzan established its Charleston base "to build out a large military aircraft initiative that is expected to support numerous jobs."

Online Intelligence reported Barzan has invested at least $15 million into its Lowcountry office, which employs 17 workers. Barzan plans to build its spy drones in the Charleston area, the report stated, with the first Nightwarden to be available next year.

"Barzan Aeronautical is currently attempting to broker sales of the future drone with NATO's European member states," Online Intelligence reported. "But its first customer should, of course, be Qatar. With these potential contracts, Doha (Qatar's capital city) is hoping to increase its political capital with the United States and NATO in general."

In addition to its drone production, Barzan is a partner in the S.C. Aeronautical Training Center at Trident Technical College's campus in North Charleston. A Barzan filing under the federal Foreign Agent Registration Act shows the company has held several meetings in recent months with college officials to establish a potential student exchange program.

Barzan also has held meetings with the Charleston County Aviation Authority and Charleston County Economic Development, according to the filing.

Hardwick, who took the CEO job at Barzan earlier this year, is the third top executive for the company in its three-year existence. He previously founded Hardwick Consulting and Investigations and also worked with Ott as consultants to the Pentagon and other federal agencies in the Middle East, particularly in Iraq and Jordan on investigations into violations of U.S. sanctions by foreign companies, according to Online Intelligence.

Barzan Aeronautical is a division of Barzan Holdings, which is owned by the Qatari Ministry of Defense. According to the Barzan website, the entity is "responsible for empowering the military capabilities of the Qatari Armed Forces" through partnerships with international companies.

The drone Barzan purchased from Textron weighs 80 pounds, has an 11.9-foot wingspan and a 20-pound payload capacity, according to the company’s marketing materials. The aerial device, which can be operated from a mobile control center, has a 15,000-foot ceiling and a 75-mile range.

Barzan’s website says the company picked Charleston because it "is home to one of the largest hubs in aviation, engineering and advanced manufacturing in the United States."

"The 'can do' attitude in business, the city's global reputation for attracting some of the best and most talented engineers in the world and the support of Charleston-based academic institutions made Barzan's decision easy," the website states.

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Reach David Wren at 843-937-5550 or on Twitter at @David_Wren_

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