Multibillion-Dollar Arms Bonanza Beckons In Saudi Defense Revamp (excerpt)
(Source: Bloomberg News; published March 4, 2018)
By Glen Carey
An army band with bagpipes marched past displays of machine guns and laser-guided missiles in Riyadh last week as international defense companies showed off their hardware.

Hours later, the Saudi government announced that several top commanders had been removed, including the chief of staff and the heads of ground and air forces.

If recent months have all been about Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman's crackdown on business elites, now he's turned to the military as he extends his authority over the kingdom. The purge of top brass comes as Saudi Arabia is struggling to get a grip on the proxy war with Iran in neighboring Yemen.

But, like everything in Saudi Arabia at the moment, it comes back to the country's finances and the prince's much-vaunted revamp of an economy too dependent on oil.

Executives from Raytheon, Boeing, Rheinmetall and other international companies were at the exhibition to talk about how they fit into his "Vision 2030." The new era for defense includes developing a domestic industry so that the world's biggest importer of U.S. weapons can make hardware itself in conjunction with foreign manufacturers.

For companies specializing in military equipment, it could mean billions of dollars in contracts as the kingdom spends decades building an industry from scratch. At the exhibition in Riyadh, dozens of companies marketed their cyber weaponry, combat vehicles and communications systems.

"There is a lot a business potential over the next five, 10 years, 15 years," John Bottimore, vice president of international business development at the U.S. unit of British company BAE Systems, said in an interview at the exhibition. "We won't have a position in Saudi Arabia long term if we don't work with partners and transfer capability."

The announcement on Feb. 26 of the change in military personnel came the same day as King Salman approved a plan setting out a "vision and strategy" for the Defense Ministry. In another major shift, the government also said military jobs at the rank of soldier would be open to women for the first time. (end of excerpt)

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