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Tuesday, July 19, 2011     GET REAL

Even good pay can't attract young Saudis
into defense industry

ABU DHABI — Saudi Arabia has failed to meet targets to expand its nascent defense industry.


Saudi industry sources said the Gulf Arab kingdom has fallen short in a program to recruit and train thousands of nationals to work in the defense industry. The sources said the program was meant to enable major Western contractors to transfer technology and production to Saudi Arabia.

"Although the pay is good, this has not attracted the number of young Saudis that we need," an industry source said. "The industry is demanding and requires years of training."

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The Saudi Defense Ministry has retained BAE Systems to develop the kingdom's defense industry. BAE has been committed to transfer technology and production as part of the Eurofighter Typhoon program.

Under the program, BAE was to have significantly expanded its Saudi work force and recruit local subcontractors for the Eurofighter. But the sources said BAE would be unable to subcontract anywhere near the amount of work envisioned in the project, meant to supply 72 aircraft to Riyad.

Russia has also launched a project to deliver the BMP-3 armored combat vehicle to the Saudi Army. The sources said the contract also included technology transfer and coproduction.

The development of the kingdom's defense industry has been the responsibility of the state-owned Saudi Military Industries. The agency has sought to encourage Saudi defense firms and research institutions.

But the sources said young Saudis preferred to forego the need for years of training for a career in family businesses. They also cited a long vetting process by the Saudi security services for anybody prepared to work in the defense industry.

"The recruitment [for the Saudi defense industry] is now taking place in Europe, particularly in Britain and Russia," the industry source said.

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