Air defense systems are attracting particular interest at Saudi Arabia's premier defense show, as drone and missile attacks surge in the wealthy and strategic Gulf.
The show, which has been held since Sunday north of the capital Riyadh, brings together some 600 companies from around forty countries to present their latest technologies to customers in the Gulf.
Targets of deadly attacks by Houthi rebels in Yemen, supported by their great regional rival Iran, Saudi Arabia and its neighbor the United Arab Emirates are among the largest arms importers in the world.
Visitors to the show are "particularly interested in air defense systems and anti-drone systems", explains the director of operations of the Polish company Advanced Protection Systems, Tomas Kossowski.
"Our main visitors are from Saudi Arabia, and the discussions are about ways to protect sensitive infrastructure, military and civilian, and of course the borders," he told AFP.
The Polish company has already sold defense systems to the wealthy Gulf monarchy in 2019 aimed at protecting the technological infrastructure of the national telecommunications company. Discussions have also been initiated with "other Saudi government entities", adds his representative.
A military drone at the arms fair in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, on March 8, 2022 (Fayez Nureldine / AFP)
The kingdom, which has led a military coalition in Yemen supporting the government since 2015, is regularly the target of attacks by Houthi rebels, particularly in the southern regions bordering Yemen.
According to the coalition, the Houthis have fired more than 400 ballistic missiles and 850 explosive-laden drones into Arabia over the past seven years, killing 59 civilians.
The coalition carried out 401 airstrikes in Yemen in January alone, according to the Yemen Data Project, an independent monitor which reports around 9,000 Yemeni civilians killed in strikes since 2015.
In January, the United Arab Emirates, also a member of the coalition, was the target of an attack that killed three people.
"Houthi attacks are more frequent and more dangerous. More advanced solutions are therefore needed to deal with them," said a Western military attaché on condition of anonymity.
More difficult to counter with conventional defense systems, drones have become "a major problem" for the entire region, he adds.
Armed groups in the Middle East have taken a liking to these cheap and accessible unmanned systems.
Beyond the Gulf, the Israeli army announced in February that it had fired on a drone sent by the Lebanese Hezbollah, while the Iraqi Prime Minister escaped an assassination attempt by a drone last year.
Among the technologies offered by exhibitors in Riyadh is a portable system that can be placed on the back of security forces or devices capable of jamming the radio signal used by drones, creating a no-fly zone above the construction sites, military base, or moving convoy.
A military drone presented at the first defense fair in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, on March 8, 2022 (Fayez Nureldine / AFP)
On Monday, Saudi Arabia announced on the sidelines of the show an agreement with the American arms giant Lockheed Martin, for the construction of air defense systems in the kingdom.
The authority that oversees the Saudi military industry, GAMI, has entered into a total of 22 partnerships with national and international defense companies, worth around 1.9 billion euros.
These agreements cover a wide range of activities, from the direct purchase of military systems to the construction of production lines, as well as knowledge transfer and training.
They will help "generate new investments in the defense industries", underlined the official press agency.
The world's largest arms importer between 2016 and 2020, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (Siprin), Saudi Arabia has set itself the goal of producing 50% of its needs locally by the horizon. 2030.