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China and Russia beaten by South Korea at Riyadh arms show

It wasn't all missiles, drones and bombs at the Second World Defense Show in Riyadh: small arms were also being demonstrated SPA
It wasn't all missiles, drones and bombs at the second World Defense Show in Riyadh: small arms were also being demonstrated
  • Seoul sells Saudis SAM system
  • 36 Chinese companies at show
  • Seven Russian sellers attend

China and Russia displayed their wares and Iranian officials toured the exhibits, but South Korea took the top prize at the Riyadh arms show. 

Saudi Arabia’s second World Defense Show, held in Riyadh this week, was a stark indicator of a military procurement strategy that is not only relying more on local manufacture, but also looking far beyond Western allies to source its materiel. 

The United States was the largest foreign presence, with 101 companies, while France had 43 exhibitors. Britain had 14. 

But the major deal announced during the event was the South Korean company LIG Nex1’s sale of its Cheongung M-SAM II surface-to-air missile defence system to Saudi Arabia for $3.2 billion. 

“So far, so good,” said Seonguk Ryu, chief manager of LIG Nex1’s Middle East and North Africa business. A large video screen declared the missile system’s role defending Saudi Arabia and bringing peace. 

“The MSAM programme is like a Raytheon Patriot missile, so that’s the most popular for now in this region,” Ryu said. “Also the Raybolt and Altair anti-tank missiles, they’re already operating with Saudi forces right now, they’re like Raytheon’s Javelin.” 

South Korea, which signed a free trade agreement with the Gulf Cooperation Council in December, is aiming to become one of the world’s largest arms suppliers, with global sales shooting up from $7.25 billion in 2021 to $17 billion in 2022. 

It was slim pickings for Western countries, by contrast. 

While Lockheed Martin agreed with Saudi companies to manufacture parts for the Thaad missile defence system that Riyadh already contracted in 2017 to buy for $15 billion, Airbus said it was in talks to sell A330 tanker military planes and BAE Systems delivered its Hawk 165 jet – which was assembled and partly manufactured by 25 Saudi companies. 

Behemoths from rivals China and Russia, which is under US sanctions, had a big presence at the Riyadh arms show, but were guarded about deals with Saudi Arabia, the number five global arms spender. 

A representative from the state-owned Norinco Group, one of 36 Chinese companies at the show, said only that interest in anti-tank missiles was high, then declined to comment further. 

Russia’s state arms exporter, Rosoboronexport, had a large graphic display showing swarm drones, whose use in the Ukraine war has dramatically impacted military thinking around the world. 

“Wait, I’m not allowed to speak,” a sales representative said. 

A Russian trade delegation headed by the country’s deputy prime minister and industry and trade minister, Denis Manturov, visited the Riyadh arms show, where Russian media said seven companies were present. 

Iranian media also reported that a delegation from Tehran met the Saudi chief of general staff, Fayyadh al-Ruwaili, during a tour of the exhibition, at which there was no Iranian pavilion. 

“Saudi Arabia wants to show that it is independent of everyone,” said US-based defence analyst Theodore Karasik. “Now there is a tendency to look to Eastern sources of arms and knowledge.”

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