By Haitham EL-TABEI
Air defence systems have been front and centre at Saudi Arabia’s first defence show as drone and missile attacks increase in the energy-rich Gulf.
Deadly strikes on Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates claimed by Yemeni rebels have been the talk of shows held in the two countries in recent weeks.
Six hundred companies from about 40 countries showed off the latest military technology at the World Defense Show in the Saudi capital Riyadh this week.
“There is very much high interest in the region for the capabilities to defeat drones and IEDs,” said Bobby Strawbridge of US firm Allen-Vanguard, which makes equipment to block radio-controlled weaponry.
Saudi Arabia has since 2015 led an international coalition supporting Yemen’s government against Huthi Shiite rebels. It has regularly come under attack along its southern border with Yemen.
Visitors to the Riyadh show are zooming in on anti-drone and air defence systems, according to Tomas Kossowski, chief operating officer for Advanced Protection Systems.
The Polish firm sold its infrastructure-defence products to Saudi Arabia’s national telecoms operator in 2019 and has since been in negotiations with other potential customers. Kossowski said interest from the Gulf in “defending critical infrastructure” was growing every month.
“There is a big threat here from the constant attacks from drones in the region,” he told AFP. “The Yemen border is under constant threat and with our solutions we are able to prevent drone attacks.”
– ‘More frequent and dangerous’ –
The Saudi-led coalition says Huthi rebels have fired more than 400 missiles and 850 armed drones into Saudi Arabia over the past seven years, killing 59 civilians.
According to the Yemen Data Project, the coalition staged 401 air raids into Yemen in January alone, and about 9,000 civilians have been killed in raids since 2015.
The UAE, which is part of the coalition, was the target of an attack in January that killed three people.
“Huthi attacks have become more frequent and dangerous, that is why more advanced solutions are needed to confront them,” said a Western military attache, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Drones have become the big new threat facing the region because they are cheap, easy to build and difficult to intercept, making them attractive to radical groups, the diplomat added.
Israel said last month that it had fired at a drone launched by Lebanese militant group Hezbollah, while in November Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhemi escaped an assassination attempt by a bomb-laden drone.
Arms companies are gearing up in response. One company at the Riyadh show was selling a portable system that can block the radio signal used to control drones. That offers the possibility of setting up a drone-free zone over a military base or a moving convoy.
Saudi Arabia, the world’s biggest arms importer between 2016 and 2020, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, on Monday announced an accord with US giant Lockheed Martin to build an air defence system in the kingdom.
The General Authority for Military Industries, which oversees the Saudi defence industry, has made 22 deals with national and international enterprises worth some two billion dollars.
The deals range from the purchase of military systems to the construction of production lines and the transfer of knowledge and training.
The government wants 50 percent of its arms needs provided by Saudi manufacturers by 2030.