Saudis Buying Up Arms From Everyone

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has been doing arms business with almost every nation they can find to spend money with. Blowing through defense financing like someone trying to get rid of counterfeit or illegally obtained cash, they cannot seem to buy up enough. Hosting a defense contractors convention in Riyadh over the first weekend of February, China emerged thrilled with the feedback the Saudis gave them on various weapons systems.

On February 7th the South Korean Ministry of National Defense announced a $3.2 billion deal for a surface-to-air missile defense system. Given their recent in-nation success at developing a new system, the Saudis are rumored to be going away from purchasing from US-based defense contractors. Mind you this isn’t just because of their ingenuity.

Rather, the relationship has spoiled a bit on both ends. With the Saudis deciding to become entangled in the civil war in Yemen making the US look bad, and the kingdom’s distrust with President Biden, neither side has much faith in doing business with the other. Human rights groups from across the globe have been hounding Biden to clamp down on Saudi sales, which has only made the situation more complicated.

Oddly enough though, the Saudis remain the biggest importers of US arms. Racking up $84.3 billion in deals during the calendar year 2023, they also have the fifth-richest defense budget on the globe. Only the U.S., China, Russia, and India spend more.

While they are still following Saudi Vision 2030 as written almost a decade ago by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS). The CEO of the nation (so to speak), put the Kingdom on a quest to get beyond oil as their main revenue is incredible. By continuing to buy up from others, they can play catchup, and advance from there. It essentially saves decades of research and development and helps to keep the Saudi kingdom secure even in 2024.

A major component of this plan is to eventually make their weapons development evolve into making drones 100% in-house. Enter the General Authority for Military Industries (GAMI). This inaugural drone factory in Riyadh is being operated by a Saudi firm called INTRA Defense Technologies. An official launch of the factory occurred on February 6th and is currently listing 120 drones per year as a measure of success. Aiming to become a bigger player in the tech export market, they are developing them with numerous uses in mind.

In this latest deal with South Korea, the Saudi Kingdom agreed to purchase their Cheongung M-SAM II surface-to-air missiles. Built to intercept opposition missiles and aircraft, defense ministers knocked it out during the defense expo. The commonly called “Iron Hawk” system picks up inbound missiles entering at low and direct altitudes. With built-in radar, it is capable of GPS-guided internal operation should its communication systems get compromised.

One of the deadliest features of this system is the hammering approach it takes before detonation, whereas many other competitors simply explode just as it’s about to impact the enemy projectile or aircraft. Designed to ensure the South Koreans stayed ahead of the North Korean regime, it makes sense for the Saudis to buy up as much of this tech as they can. For years now rumors of North Korea arming other nations in the Middle East have run rampant, and as of late, they have proven to largely be true.

China’s State-Run Publication Global Times reported tremendous success at the World Defense Show 2024 in Riyadh. “The Chinese arms firms put a complete spectrum of their top products on display, ranging from land, sea, and air, including warplanes like the FC-31 stealth fighter jet, the JH-7 fighter bomber, the Y-20 strategic transport aircraft, the Y-9 tactical transport aircraft, and the AG600 amphibious, drones like the Wing Loong series, the CH series, and the FH series, plus vessels, tanks, and armored vehicles, howitzers, and multiple launch rocket systems, radars, as well as air defense guns and missiles.”

They added, “Chinese defense products are not only affordable but also feature advanced technologies and are of top quality. They also provide complete after-sales services and do not attach unreasonable political strings.” Written as an obvious jab at the US and Biden’s policies, it’s a clear-cut sign that the Chinese are desperate to get Saudi money that they previously rebuked.