Saudi Arabia intends to continue funding its tiny arms industry over the next years. US policies and a pandemic-ravaged market may prove the plan more difficult than expected.
Saudi officials finance the local arms industry with $20-billion budget. The 10-year target is to designate half of military budget on local production by 2030. Riyadh’s dependency on importing a great bulk of its military gear, ammunition, and replacement parts to foreign countries can only be resolved with a local plan.
The prosperous country is currently a top importer of military weaponry and system. The monarchy’s reliance on the US and other western allies can be costly and dangerous in serious conditions.
The United States, however, never halted providing Riyadh with defensive armament. Expanding local arms industry in Saudi Arabia has also been a part of this aid package.
It was in Biden administration that Riyadh succeeded in securing a joint contract between Saudi Military Industries and Lockheed Martin. The latter is a famous American giant in aerospace and renowned defense company.
Lockheed Martin “will develop localised capabilities by transferring technology and knowledge, and by training a Saudi workforce in manufacturing products for, and providing services to, the Saudi armed forces,” Saudi Arabian Military Industries said in a statement following the venture.
Independent Arms Industry
Two years ago, Washington and Riyadh signed a co-production deal to produce critical sections of Paveway “precision-guided” weapons in Saudi soils.
Critics, nevertheless, blasted the agreement due to its threat for the region. “Saudis may acquire access to technology that would allow them to manufacture their own version of American precision-guided bombs,” the opponents believed.
This means forces inside and outside the US still see Saudi Arabia as a potential regional threat. While aiding the country with armament, the transfer of the science to the Persian Gulf country is a red line.
With such hindering forces, the goal of reaching a %50 local production in Saudi Arabian arms industry seems a distant aim.
“Saudi Arabia has made a lot of progress in building up its domestic arms industry, especially in terms of developing land weapons systems, electronics, and smart bombs. But the goal of spending 50 percent of the kingdom’s military budget at home remains a distant, unlikely one,” a RANE analyst says.
Saudi Arabia is a powerful force in the Middle East thanks to the patronage if the United States. The US interests, nevertheless, requires the continuation of the dependency. An independent kingdom with powerful arms industry might change the geopolitical scene of the Middle East and step into irreversible regional hostilities like Yemen war.
US-Saudi political Tide
The United States is progressively reducing its military presence in the Middle East. Washington announced recently that it will reduce the number of soldiers and defense assets in the region, including Patriot defense batteries. It also announced the termination of THAAD anti-missile system’s mission in Saudi Arabia.
Saudi Arabia claims that reduction of US military assets in the country will have no impact on its power projection. Nevertheless, it is largely believed that the kingdom will be years away from its arms industry plans.
The new developments might be a motivating force for the Saudi regime for dependency in arms industry. The reality, however, is that Riyadh will be forced to allocate more of the military budget to foreign arms contracts.
The US clearly knows that a self-sufficient Saudi Arabia will be a disobedient regional force. The desire for an independent arms industry is an unattainable one for Saudi Arabia in the coming decades.