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Development in defense sector always happens with national capabilities: Abukhaled

Saudi Gazette: REINFORCING localization has become one of the top priorities of military manufacturing industry in the Kingdom. That was deeply discussed in Armed Forces Exhibition to Support Local Industries “AFED 2018” Exhibition which provided a platform to explore avenues of partnership and collaboration to localize industries and increase the share of local content as outlined by the Kingdom’s Vision 2030.

Many companies from the private sector are adopting this vision and have already started to create a strong presence with Saudi staff. Northrop Grumman is one among the premier companies, which is considered, that shoulders the responsibility to hire and train Saudi youth and to prepare them for this promising sector.

In this regard, Saudi Gazette met with Walid Abukhaled, chief executive, Northrop Grumman Middle East, in AFED Exhibition to discuss the company’s initiative in hiring local experts and its future plans to empower women in the sector.

“I believe what is happening in the Kingdom is a new phase and era in localizing military industry in the Kingdom. I believe the way is being set up now, and it makes all of us extremely optimistic. The international world is seeing great progress,” he said.

“As an aerospace, defense and security leader, Northrop Grumman recognizes that growth and increasing the self-reliance of Saudi Arabia’s defense industrial base will provide critical, long-term benefits for the Kingdom,” said Abukhaled. “So we are focused on expanding our industrial footprint locally and in line with our established global supply chain standards with Saudi hands.”

When it comes to localizing this sector in all aspects, it does not matter if it is an international company operating in the Kingdom or local company, he said, adding, “What matters is the strong participation of Saudi hands and capabilities in factories, and the companies doing both the manufacturing and the administrative work.”

“With the setting up of GAMI (General Authority for Military Industry) and the setting up of SAMI (Saudi Arabian Military Company) and an authority called Local Context to look at the local context for any big project, I believe that the cooperation between all these entities along with the private sector will cause greatly a tremendous shift in the industry and will make improvement in localizing this vital sector,” he stressed.

“When we talk about Saudization, our decision is to accomplish high rates of Saudization not because it is a legal requirement, but because it is the right thing to do and because Saudi staff and employees have proven to us that how capable and highly dedicated they are.”

He emphasized that this goes totally with the future growth plans for Northrop Grumman in the Kingdom. “We truly believe that it is an essential element of our growth plan. We will do the same in any country we operate in because we believe that defense industry will be strong because of the national workforce and participation in all its sectors. We are doing well in achieving our mission with cooperation of our Saudi staff. Now 80% of our headquarters in the Kingdom is dominated by Saudis,” he said.

“With our joint ventures we are close to 900 employees including 50% Saudi nationals. That Saudi percentage includes 30% females, which I am proudly declaring. In any spot in the world, you would expect a smaller percentage for the defense industry. However, our vision goes in line with the Kingdom’s in all its objectives especially women empowerment. They work in different departments and we highly encourage them to move up the ranks with us in our company.

“Now, we are sitting in AFED exhibition which is specialized in defense sector and manufacturing military vehicles, and we see a very good percentage of women who are working and participating in different sections of the exhibition. That is a great eye opener. We have seen Saudi female entrepreneurs that own factories for making equipment needed by different military sector such as: helmets and bulletproof vest and they are successfully cooperating with multinational companies to manufacture products,” he added

He stated that the Kingdom is already manufacturing military vehicles, some UAVs, and some equipment but when we talk about complex systems we step into the picture. I believe that with all the changes and the developments in regulations, the Kingdom will be heading surely towards the objectives set in Vision 2030.

“We look forward to further strengthening strategic industry relationships at AFED,” he said.

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