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Saudi Arabia shows off local arms industry gains

Saudi minister of defense Prince Khalid bin Salman bin Abdulaziz at the presentation of the Hawk T-165 jet, assembled and partly manufactured in Saudi Arabia SPA
Saudi minister of defense Prince Khalid bin Salman bin Abdulaziz at the presentation of the Hawk T-165 jet, assembled and partly manufactured in Saudi Arabia
  • 50% spend target by 2030
  • Boost for Saudi workforce
  • First jet made in kingdom

Saudi Arabia showed off locally manufactured military equipment at a major defence show in Riyadh this week as it tries to offset its massive foreign arms spending through its own arms production. 

Government officials at the World Defense Show said the country has managed to increase domestic military spending to 14 percent of the total in 2022, from 4 percent in 2018.

It wants to reach 50 percent by 2030 as part of massive economic development plans. 

The project is overseen by the General Authority for Military Industries (GAMI) – formed in 2017 to procure military, security and intelligence agencies – along with a research body called General Authority for Defense Development, set up in 2021. 

“We started with only five companies in 2019 and [are] up to more than 260 companies by the end of 2023,” said Turki Alothman, GAMI’s director of Supply Base Management.

He added that these local and international companies covered manufacturing, servicing and training. Foreign companies are expected to have a largely Saudi workforce. 

“The ministry of national guard has been mandated to localise 100 percent of its military spending by 2025,” Saud Alhmoud, the elite National Guard’s executive director of strategy, said in a presentation at the defence show on February 6. 

At the exhibition, entities such as the state-owned Saudi Arabian Military Industries (SAMI) and private sector companies displayed locally made weapons, tanks, radars and drones that could potentially reduce the space for some foreign suppliers. 

A SAMI representative at the show said: “By 2027 we will have full manufacturing, mass production for all types. We will export.”

Saud Alhmoud, the National Guard’s executive director of strategy, speaks at the World Defense ShowAGBI
Saud Alhmoud, the National Guard’s executive director of strategy, speaks at the World Defense Show

Saudi Arabia was the fifth biggest military spender in the word in 2022 at an estimated $75 billion. This was up 16 percent from 2021 and represents 7.4 percent of GDP – the second highest military outlay in the world, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (Sipri).

Britain’s BAE Systems unveiled its new Hawk T-165 jet at the event. This was assembled and partly manufactured by 25 Saudi companies for delivery to the Saudi ministry of defence. 

Saudi Intra Defense Technologies exhibited its small Asef drones and a large unmanned plane called the Samsoon, which uses some parts supplied by foreign companies. 

“Companies like Neom, Aramco are interested,” said project manager Abdullah Misfer Alghamdi. “This product was made for their needs.”

He added that their Riyadh factory, which employs 110 people, would begin mass production within a few months. 

Defence industry analyst Theodore Karasik said use of components in local production was a concern for some Western countries worried about technology transfer. For this reason the United States has put conditions on sales of its F-35 stealth jets to some countries. 

“There are security issues with mixing and matching equipment that could require extra due diligence so there needs to be a solid process. SAMI does do that,” Karasik said.

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