Interview: Nasser Hassan Al Naimi

How will defence help stimulate local development?

NASSER HASSAN AL NAIMI: The defence industry is being revolutionised, as new threats emerge in areas such as cyberwarfare. Traditional defence spending focused on procurement, but local defence players are now investing heavily in research and development (R&D) programmes as the strategic landscape shifts. When launching Barzan Holdings, we considered how we could contribute to Qatar National Vision 2030, build human and technological capital, and participate in Qatar’s business ecosystem. We have identified strategic partners to provide niche expertise, equipment and technology.

As we are fully government owned, providing guaranteed contracts will allow us to leverage procurement and deliverables to support local industrial investment. This will have a long-term trickle-down effect, as investment in specialised R&D will create highly skilled jobs, and joint ventures with international companies – including Rheinmetall, QinetiQ, Kongsberg and Beretta – will strengthen our technological capacity.

We want to develop plug-and-play capabilities, engaging with the local market to diversify our supply chain. Qatar already has companies and factories operating in relevant sectors, such as manufacturers of metal components for maintenance work, so any project under Barzan Holdings will work to maximise what can be sourced and supplied locally. Many local producers can meet these needs, so our joint ventures with international partners can utilise these resources rather than duplicate investment.

I think we are helping to create new industries and sectors from the ground up in order to ensure that we meet the long-term needs of the country and act as a strategic reserve in different fields.

What role will firms and universities play in transferring knowledge to research-intensive sectors?

AL NAIMI: The localisation of R&D and manufacturing is a gradual process; companies first look at the existing ecosystem and capabilities of the workforce to see if these can be further developed. The pillars necessary for this transfer were already here. For example, Qatar Science and Technology Park (QSTP) has R&D facilities, Manateq’s special economic zones will provide logistics space, and other sectors such as energy and downstream petrochemicals are already well established.

Establishing Barzan Holdings at QSTP has provided access to branch universities, which support this training and capacity building. We have developed partnerships with local universities including Qatar University, the College of the North Atlantic and the Community College of Qatar.

Technology and knowledge transfer through sustainable, long-term projects with international partners can also upgrade the local industry. By developing defence capabilities, we will engage with companies growing in various areas, such as equipment maintenance components and laser optics. New business partnerships can increase collaboration and exchange between international and local firms.

By working and investing with these partners to own, develop and promote these ideas, we can guarantee long-term investment in R&D.

What is the state of intellectual property (IP) protection, and what further steps will be needed?

AL NAIMI: We will need to focus on marketing Qatar’s existing capabilities rather than changing the regulatory environment. The Qatar Foundation has been a local leader in IP, and the country has followed a broader trend to internationally register IP. The Qatar Computing and Research Institute, for example, has developed several global IPs. As a nascent industry, the defence sector can set these parameters for all necessary future regulatory changes.

The government has been very responsive to the changing needs of local business, so regulations will be able to adapt quickly as new sectors develop.