RIYADH: American defense firm Lockheed Martin looks to deepen its defense ties beyond regular military systems to space technology with Saudi Arabia as part of the Kingdom’s ambitious space mission under Vision 2030.  

The Washington-headquartered company, which has a separate division for space besides aerospace, arms, and information security, is the only US firm to have sold Saudi Arabia a military satellite to provide secure communications, Joseph Rank, chief executive for Lockheed Martin in Saudi Arabia and Africa, told Arab News on the sidelines of the World Defense Show in Riyadh.

He said the satellite is essential to military operations, and now Saudi Arabia is looking to procure several other systems, including space-based early warning — a satellite that can detect regional threats before they are even launched.

“The space offerings that Lockheed has will meet the needs of the Kingdom and also the other partners in the region,” Rank said, adding that they wanted to be a part of the World Defense Show as they consider Saudi Arabia, a strategic partner.

Present with a strong contingent of senior officials at the show, Lockheed Martin has announced closing deals with Saudi Arabia’s military regulatory body for two localization projects as part of the Kingdom’s ongoing efforts to localize 50 percent of its military spending by 2030.

Joe Rank

The first project aims to localize the manufacture of missile interceptor launchers, and the second for producing the missile interceptor canisters locally, under the program for localization of the THAAD Weapon System, the Kingdom’s General Authority for Military Industries (GAMI) has said.

“What’s exciting about this is that it gives the Kingdom the world’s most advanced missile defense system, which will keep it safe from the increased threats that we see around the region and the world,” said Rank.

He warned that the threats today and tomorrow will be drones and missiles coming into the Kingdom, “so the focus of our efforts is to help them enhance their defense.”

Rank explained that this is being done with digital counter missiles, counter-drone systems, and a critical command and control system that will be produced mainly in the Kingdom and maintained by Saudis. It will be “a sovereign and commercial system, not subject to export approvals.”

The Lockheed Martin executive said the need for Saudi Arabia and other countries in the region to defend themselves from threats is driving the growth. Since the Kingdom is one of the largest consumers of defense equipment, “it only makes sense for them to produce their systems locally.”

Rank said they are working with GAMI and the Saudi Arabian Military Industries, SAMI, to build the capacity and capabilities of the local industry; however, he admitted that the 50 percent requirement was “challenging,” but that was what they “signed up to do.”

Aside from providing training, spare parts, and technical expertise for all the systems they sell to the Kingdom, he said Lockheed Martin is also an official partner with GAMI’s academy.

The academy “will initially start as a vocational-technical school to help teach young Saudis how to handle complex defense and mechanical challenges, and they will teach them how to sustain, repair, and eventually design their systems,” Rank added.

He also said that Lockheed Martin has also started internship programs at Saudi universities “to create an ecosystem of R&D in campuses.”