Private sector cooperation boosts Saudi Arabia's security sector

 

At Saudi Technology Development and Investment Company (TAQNIA) aviators and engineers, who are the beneficiaries of Saudi Arabia’s investments in defence and education, are making plans for the future of the Kingdom’s aerospace industry. TAQNIA, which was formed by royal decree in 2011 as a branch of the Public Investment Fund, is drawing on the experience and talent of the country’s armed forces and on the industrial knowledge of engineers who have trained and worked in the US, UK and China. Its aeronautical division is one of the firms leading the way in creating an aerospace manufacturing industry in Saudi Arabia through partnerships with leading international companies.

Antonov Alliance

In March 2017 the first Antonov AN-132D multi-purpose, turboprop aircraft completed its maiden flight in Ukraine, a defining moment in the partnership between Ukrainian aircraft manufacturer Antonov, TAQNIA Aeronautics and King Abdulaziz City for Science and Technology (KACST). With financial backing from Saudi Arabia, the AN-132D was remodelled with PW150A engines provided by Canada’s Pratt & Whitney and avionics provided by US firm Honeywell. The first aircraft off the production line was manufactured at Antonov’s factory in Ukraine; however, the deal includes an agreement to build a new facility in Saudi Arabia. Initially, six aircraft will be produced for the Saudi Ministry of Defence (MoD), four as transport aircraft to be deployed in a search and rescue capacity and two to be used for electronic warfare.

In May 2017 a new agreement was signed by TAQNIA, Ukraine national defence group Ukroboronprom and Turkey’s Havelsan to produce a maritime variant of the AN-132D. This will enable the plant to make components out of carbon-fibre and graphite pre-impregnated material that is stronger than steel and lighter than aluminium. Boeing pioneered the use of these advanced composites in the manufacture of the 787 Dream-liner aircraft. The materials used included advanced composites (50%), aluminium (20%), titanium (15%), steel (10%) and other materials for the remaining 5%. Muneer Bakhsh, director of TAQNIA Aeronautics and an engineer, worked on the design of the Boeing 787, and subsequently established a business focusing on composite solutions. Now at TAQNIA Aeronautics, he sees great potential in the country’s investment in the sector. “The composite industry is booming and that is why we are backing the technology,” Bakhsh told OBG.

Drone Factory

Also, in March 2017 China made what was considered its largest single overseas arms contract, signing an agreement with TAQNIA and KACST that will equip Saudi Arabia with aerial drones and see them manufactured locally. The China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation produces the CH-4 unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), which is said to be the equivalent of America’s MQ-9 Reaper. The CH-4, which is turboprop powered, and the jet-powered CH-5 can each carry an AR1/HJ-10 missile system capable of hitting a target from 10 km. The deal with China adds to the range of aerospace equipment being manufactured in the Kingdom and enables the country to sidestep the voluntary Missile Control Technology Regime, which since 1992 has placed restrictions on UAV exports from Europe and the US to avoid the proliferation of arms that might be used to deliver nuclear weapons.

Black Hawks

However, in addition to the manufacturing agreements it has made with the Ukraine and China, TAQNIA Aeronautics is working alongside Saudi Arabia’s traditional aerospace partners in the US. In February 2016 it signed an agreement with Sikorsky, a Lockheed Martin company, to explore opportunities to assemble the Sikorsky S-70 Black Hawk helicopter in Saudi Arabia. Then, in May 2017 Lockheed Martin committed to assembling 150 Black Hawk helicopters in the Kingdom, creating 450 jobs. The MoD, Ministry of the National Guard and Ministry of the Interior operate a fleet of Black Hawk helicopters, while the Ministry of Interior operates Sikorsky S-92 commercial heavylift helicopters. Sikorsky is under contract to deliver Seahawk helicopters to the MoD under the US’s Foreign Military Sales programme.

Lockheed Martin has been working in Saudi Arabia since 1965 and has partnered with KACST, King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) and Alfaisal University to help educate young Saudi engineers and professionals and, in partnership with Babson College in the US, is launching a Centre for Entrepreneurial Leadership.

The new agreement paves the way for the first manufacturing or assembly plant of Sikorsky helicopters in the Kingdom. “Entering into this agreement will give TAQNIA Aeronautics the foundation to create a helicopter assembly operation in Saudi Arabia and assist in developing local content,” Ali Al Ghamdi, retired major general and CEO of TAQNIA Aeronautics, told local media. “Together we are forging a relationship with a company owned by Lockheed Martin, a global technology leader, which can help grow Saudi involvement in capabilities that are important to the Kingdom’s sustained economic growth.”

Rockwell

In December 2016 another US firm signed an agreement with TAQNIA Aeronautics that will focus on the manufacture, assembly and upgrading of its products in the Kingdom. Rockwell Collins, a global leader in avionics, agreed to cover military fixed-wing and rotary avionics in Saudi Arabia. “Rockwell Collins is expanding its presence in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and is committed to providing technical job opportunities to local citizens,” Claude Alber, vice-president and managing director of Europe, Middle East and Africa for Rockwell Collins, told local media.

Boeing Company

Boeing is also making major contributions to localisation of production and development of the Kingdom’s aerospace industry by establishing the Saudi Rotorcraft Support Company (SRSC) in a partnership with Saudia Aerospace Engineering Industries (SAEI) and Alsalam Aerospace Industries. The joint venture will operate two facilities in Riyadh and Jeddah offering maintenance and overhaul to the country’s rotorcraft fleet. SRSC will be able to service eight helicopters simultaneously in Riyadh, while the Jeddah facility will focus on component support. Boeing also works with academic institutions in Saudi Arabia such as KAUST and is a member of KAUST’s Industrial Collaboration Programme, which aims to involve academics and students in research and development initiatives.

Changing Focus

A number of successful companies in Saudi Arabia, including Alsalam, grew out of previous offset agreements with multinational enterprises in the 1980s. In late 2016 Alsalam rebranded itself to conform to the objectives of the nation’s economic development plan, Vision 2030, which challenges firms to embrace a broader range of manufacturing opportunities. Alsalam has manufactured components in the past, but the challenge for the future is to expand into manufacturing and assembly of complete aircraft, an enterprise that requires a comprehensive supply chain of smaller specialised manufacturing companies.

Space Technology

Another branch of TAQNIA – devoted to space technology – is making strides in both manufacturing and satellite services. In March 2017 TAQNIA Space signed an agreement with Arab Satellite Communications Organisation (Arabsat) to manufacture ARABSAT 6D, a satellite that is to be placed in orbit. Arabsat 6D is co-owned by KACST and Arabsat. The new satellite will provide internet, fixed and mobile TV broadcasting and other services aboard aircraft. TAQNIA Space, Arabsat and KACST have already collaborated on another satellite, SGS-1, which is scheduled to be launched in early 2018. In February 2017 TAQNIA Space signed an agreement with Eutelsat that will enable email, social networking and live streaming for passengers connected to the TAQNIA Space Aero services platform in the MENA region and Europe. The service will cover flights from Saudi Arabia to London and Casablanca to Oman, with Saudi Arabian Airlines being the first commercial airline to utilise the platform.

Looking Ahead

Local firms are forging ahead with new endeavours across the sector. Hundreds of thousands of Saudis received free university education abroad over a 15-year period of high oil prices, as well as during periods of lower prices and more restricted government spending. Private sector companies and the partnerships that are being forged under the banner of Vision 2030 in industries such as aerospace could offer employment opportunities to many of these people.

The greater immediate challenge is to create an environment that enables existing businesses or start-ups to feed into the kind of complex supply chain that typically supports aerospace development. The fastest route to the creation of a Saudi aero-manufacturing sector is through partnership with international firms that have been selling aircraft to the country for decades. In the long term self-sufficiency would entail using the new supply chain, the combined talents of Saudi engineers and researchers, and the venture capital available in the Kingdom to innovate and invent the next generation of civilian and military aircraft in order to meet the nation’s commercial and strategic needs.

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The Report: Saudi Arabia 2018

Security, Defence & Aerospace chapter from The Report: Saudi Arabia 2018

The Report: Saudi Arabia 2018

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