Saudi Arabia Aims To Bolster Its Defense Industry, But Won’t Stop Importing Arms Soon

Saudi Arabia, the world’s biggest arms buyer, is trying to boost investment in its defense industry, aimed at reducing arms import due to worldwide opposition to arms sales to Saudi given the oil-rich nation’s role in the Yemen War and the mystery of Saudi’s journalist Jamal Khashoggi killing.

The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) data showed that Saudi was the world’s biggest arms importer from 2014 to 2018, a 192 percent sharp increase from the period on 2009-2013. The U.S. was the largest arms supplier, exporting 88 percent of its arms in 2018.

Saudi’s General Authority for Military Industry (GAMI) will issue licenses to foreign and local companies to produce fire guns, ammunition, military explosive materials, military equipment and so on, as the kingdom’s state news agency reported, quoted by Reuters on September 9, 2019.

GAMI governor Ahmed al-Ohali said the policy (to build military industry) would pave the way for foreign and local investors in this industry.

Saudi’s crown prince Mohammed bin Salman wants Riyadh to either produce or assemble half the defense equipment to create 40,000 job opportunities for locals, as highlighted in Saudi Vision 2030. Therefore, investment in this sector is vital.

Saudi has appointed military professional Andreas Schwer to head the development of the Saudi Arabian Military Industry (SAMI), Saudi’s national defense sector. The German is the former executive at Rheinmetall and Airbus.

SAMI’s team consists of 13 experts specialized in various fields of the defense industry. Each will help SAMI to identify international trends in the military sector, boost technology transfer, and develop a local factory to produce military equipment that meets the global market’s demand.

“The objectives of the Saudi Vision 2030 provided a strong source of motivation for these esteemed industry leaders to join the company and serve as key enablers of the program by being part of the emerging defense ecosystem in Saudi Arabia,” Schwer said as Al-Awsat reported.

It will take time for Saudi to develop its military sector

Saudi has increased its concentration on local military output as a diversification effort to deal with the Yemen war and Iran’s alleged threat in the Middle East.

“As the threat posed by Iran increases, especially in [the] Hurmuz Strait, Gulf countries are more likely to increase their armament through many sources.They will not move out [from] the USA ‘umbrella,’ but producing ammunitions and armored vehicles locally is one of the options to overcome sanctions,” Wehbe Katicha, former Lebanese general, told DefenseNews.

However, Saudi’s lack of qualified human resources for factory work will force defense companies to train their staff as stipulated in localization regulations, meaning additional cost and delay for further production. The availability of raw materials and local sourcing will be another obstacle as well.

Despite the progress made by Saudi, the wealthy kingdom will likely still import arms from the U.S. and Europe. The Western countries apply double standards  when it comes to selling weapons to the Middle East and at the same times they condemn Riyadh’s gross human rights violations.

Last June, U.S President Donald Trump vetoed Congressional’s resolutions to block arms sales to Saudi and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), the POTUS’ third vetoes during his presidency so far.

Previously, Trump bypassed Congress’authority by approving arms sales, citing Iran’s alleged threat as the reason.

Last April, Germany changed its mind by lifting arms embargo targeting Saudi, just two weeks after announcing the ban’s extension, Deutsche Welle reported.

What about buying China’s and Russia’s arms?

China has repeatedly assisted Saudi in expanding missile ballistic program. Last April. Saudi also received the first batch of Russia’s “Sunburn” heavy flamethrower systems, Russia’s state news agency RIA-Novosti reported.

However, both Russia and China will not remove the U.S. as Saudi’s leading arms supplier. To conclude, Saudi still needs Western-produced arms to develop its military, meaning the oil-rich kingdom’s ambition to be one of the world’s arms exporters is still a long way to go.