Spanish companies strengthen their presence in Saudi Arabia's growing defence sector

The Minister of Industry, the Secretary of State for Defence and a dozen companies attend the first World Defence Show in Riyadh
The national defence industry wanted to be present at the first edition of the World Defence Show. Executives of the seven companies in the TEDAE pavilion with the Spanish ambassador to Saudi Arabia, Jorge Hevia.

PHOTO/Audesc  -   The national defence industry wanted to be present at the first edition of the World Defence Show. Executives of the seven companies in the TEDAE pavilion with the Spanish ambassador to Saudi Arabia, Jorge Hevia.

Saudi Arabia has just joined the long list of countries that organise international security and defence shows on a biennial basis.

The Gulf country's proposal is called the World Defence Show (WDS), and its first edition was inaugurated by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz. It is being held from 6-9 March in Riyadh, the capital of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, under the patronage of King Salman bin Abdulaziz al-Saud and with the full support of his ministries of Defence and Interior.

The emerging WDS show joins an exhibition sector that is already saturated with events around the world. Fortunately for its organisers, Saudi Arabia's enormous arms purchasing capacity generates a pull effect that attracts companies that are already there or want to be there. But the veteran IDEX Emirates show in Abu Dhabi, which dates back to 1993, remains the most important in the Middle East, is one of the world's leading shows and will be very difficult to unseat, if that is Riyadh's intention.

The WDS is an initiative of the General Authority for Military Industries (GAMI), the state entity responsible for promoting the development of the sector. One of the ways it uses is to capture industrial offsets and technology transfers from Saudi Arabia's multi-billion dollar annual arms purchases, which amounted to $10 billion in 2021.

El príncipe heredero de Arabia Saudí, Mohamed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz, inauguró la edición del salón de defensa de Riad, que contó con la presencia de 11 empresas chinas agrupadas en un pabellón nacional
PHOTO/WDS - The Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz, inaugurated the defence show in Riyadh, which was attended by 11 Chinese companies grouped in a national pavilion.

GAMI's aim is to establish as many defence and security industries as possible in the Kingdom and generate employment for its engineers. The aim is to ensure that, according to Vision 2030, 50 per cent of investment in land-based, naval and aerospace weapons systems will be domestically generated by 2030 and result in the enhancement, diversification and enrichment of the Saudi economy. 

To achieve the ambitious goal, GAMI relies on the Saudi Arabian Military Industries (SAMI) corporation. Founded in 2017, its strategic horizon is to position itself among the top 25 military companies in the world by 2030. It has a 3,000 m² pavilion at the WDS, where it exhibits the products of the joint ventures it has established with, for example, Spain's Navantia (SAMINavantia), France's Thales (SAMIThales) and the US company L3Harris (SAMIL3Harris).

La industria británica acudió con un modelo a escala natural del avión de combate del futuro Tempest, proyecto al que se han sumado Italia y Suecia y que compite con el FCAS de Alemania, España y Francia
PHOTO/WDS - British industry came with a full-scale model of the Tempest fighter jet of the future, a project joined by Italy and Sweden and competing with the FCAS of Germany, Spain and France.
With the support of a minister and a secretary of state

The great convening power of the Saudi authorities was evident at the WDS, which brought together more than 590 companies from 42 nations in an indoor and outdoor exhibition centre of more than 100,000 m². It has the disadvantages of being located in the middle of the desert, some 70 kilometres north of Riyadh and far from the coast, so that naval proposals have to be made on scale models, by means of presentations on screens or by augmented virtual reality.

The largest number of companies attending are from the United States (71), France (31) and the United Kingdom (30), which are by no means the main suppliers of land, naval and aerospace weapons to the country's armed forces. There are also six companies from Russia and three from Ukraine, despite continued fierce fighting on Ukrainian territory. 

The WDS is packed with solutions to some of the security concerns of the Gulf states, such as drone swarm attacks. On display is a wide range of jammers, intelligence systems, threat tracking, electronic warfare equipment, signals intelligence and laser countermeasures to shoot down drones.

Para apoyar a la industria española se desplazó hasta Riad la secretaria de Estado de Defensa, Esperanza Casteleiro, y el nuevo director general de Armamento y Material, Aniceto Rosique, en el centro de la imagen
PHOTO/Audesc - The Secretary of State for Defence, Esperanza Casteleiro, and the new Director General of Armaments and Material, Aniceto Rosique, in the centre of the picture, travelled to Riyadh to support Spanish industry.

The Spanish authorities and 13 companies from the national industry have already wanted to be present at the first edition of the WDS. Many of them have come under the umbrella of the Spanish Association of Defence, Security, Aeronautics and Space Technology Companies (TEDAE), which has coordinated the national pavilion with the support of the Spanish ambassador in Riyadh, Jorge Hevia, its Economic and Commercial Office and ICEX.

At least two official Spanish delegations have visited the WDS. One was headed by the Minister of Industry, Trade and Tourism, Reyes Maroto, who also met with the Minister of Trade, Majid bin Abdullah al-Qasabi, with whom she completed her visit to the country at the end of October 2021. Another delegation was led by the Secretary of State for Defence, Esperanza Casteleiro, accompanied by the recently appointed Director General of Armaments and Material, Admiral Aniceto Rosique.

El astillero apuesta por nuevos sistemas de simulación, el submarino S-80, las nuevas fragatas F-110 y el concepto de buque NSAK Smart 4000, tras haber botado 5 corbetas de la clase Al-Sarawat para la Armada saudí
PHOTO/Navantia - The shipyard is committed to new simulation systems, the S-80 submarine, the new F-110 frigates and the NSAK Smart 4000 ship concept, after having launched 5 corvettes of the Al-Sarawat class for the Saudi Navy.
Strong national representation

The companies included in the Spanish pavilion are Amper, Arquimea, DAS Photonics, EINSA, Instalaza, Iraundi - dedicated to the design and manufacture of special bearings - and Tecnobit. Each will be showcasing the quality of their products, be they electronic, simulation, photonics, anti-tank weapons and vehicles for the aeronautical and defence sector. Some are attending on their own, such as Extenda, NTGS and Pelican.

Other Spanish companies with a greater presence and projects in Saudi Arabia have also attended the WDS, but they have preferred to show their new products and their wide range of products in larger individual stands. This is the case with Escribano M&E, which is showing its wide range of automatic turrets and electronic equipment; Expal, which is presenting its dual Eimos mortar with Talos fire control; the technology company Indra; and the Navantia shipyard, which is hosting the SAES offer.

Entre las novedades de Indra está el sistema de adiestramiento por realidad virtual Víctrix VR y las contramedidas por infrarrojo InShield para neutralizar misiles tierra-aire de corto alcance
PHOTO/Audesc - Indra's innovations include the virtual reality training system Victrix VR and InShield infrared countermeasures to neutralise short-range surface-to-air missiles.

Spanish executives, such as the presidents Luis Furnells (Tecnobit), Angel Escribano (Escribano M&E), Javier Martí (DAS Photonics), and Ricardo Domínguez (Navantia) are holding high-level meetings and negotiations to finalise contracts with the authorities of the countries in the region. This is the result of many years of continuous commercial and collaborative action with companies in the Gulf area and neighbouring countries.

One example is Navantia, which in November 2018 signed a contract to build 5 Al-Sarawat class corvettes for the Royal Navy of the Kingdom, the last of which was launched in December 2021. The agreement includes life cycle support and maintenance of the vessels at the Saudi naval base in Jeddah. The Spanish shipyard is now proposing new simulation systems, the S-80 submarine, versions of the new F-110 frigates and the NSAK Smart 4000 concept ship. 

La delegación encabezada por la ministra de Industria, Comercio y Turismo, Reyes Maroto, asistió al World Defense Show y se reunió con el ministro de Comercio, Majid bin Abdullah al-Qasabi
PHOTO/Audesc - The delegation headed by the Minister of Industry, Trade and Tourism, Reyes Maroto, attended the World Defence Show and met with the Minister of Trade, Majid bin Abdullah al-Qasabi, who was also present at the event.

Indra is showcasing its InShield infrared countermeasure systems to neutralise short-range surface-to-air missiles, which will equip Airbus A400M transport aircraft and Spain's new CH-47F Chinook heavy helicopters. Also the Víctrix VR virtual and mixed reality training system, which immerses soldiers in a virtual scenario in which they can train combat missions in urban areas.