Saudi military officers to receive training in Germany

Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman confers with German Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen in Riyadh on Thursday. (SPA)
Updated 09 December 2016
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Saudi military officers to receive training in Germany

RIYADH: Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, second deputy premier and minister of defense, and Ursula von der Leyen, German defense minister, held talks here Thursday.
They agreed to boost defense cooperation between the two countries, especially in the “training sector,” and make contributions to regional peace.
The talks also focused on key regional issues and challenges confronting the Middle East.
“The talks between Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed and the German minister focused on ways and means to beef up Saudi-German cooperation in different areas including high-level exchanges, personnel education and training, defense, mutual visits and security affairs,” said Michael Ohnmacht, deputy chief of the mission at the German Embassy, here on Thursday.
Ohnmacht said that “a draft agreement for training Saudi military officers in Germany is ready to be signed soon.” He said that the two sides would “enhance” military cooperation and work closely to make strong ties a key aspect of bilateral relations.
Asked about specific issues that figured during the talks with the deputy crown prince, the German diplomat said that “bilateral relations and regional issues with special reference to training of Saudi military officials and counter-terrorism efforts topped the agenda of the talks.”
Von der Leyen, who is the latest German official to visit Saudi Arabia this year, also paid a visit to the Riyadh-based headquarters of the 39-nation Islamic Military Alliance to Fight Terrorism (IMAFT). The German minister, on arrival at IMAFT, was met by top personnel and was briefed about the operation. The Islamic Military Alliance was set up on the initiative of Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed in December last year.
The German defense minister, who belongs to Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union, which governs in coalition with the Social Democrats (SPD), had a meeting with Mohammed Al-Tuwaijri, deputy minister of economy and planning. Al-Tuwaijri briefed the minister about Vision 2030, which calls for promoting partnerships with allies for peace, security and development.
Germany has taken over the presidency of the Group of 20 (G-20). Saudi Arabia is also a member of G-20, and hence there will be ample opportunities for both countries to work within the framework of the G-20 during the German presidency. Germany took over the presidency of the G-20 on Dec. 2 as Merkel reaffirmed that she plans to use this opportunity to challenge the zeal of protectionism pushed forth by the change of administration in the United States.
During her stay in Riyadh, Von der Leyen also visited the MiSK Foundation, where she was met by young men and women.
The Kingdom and Germany are close allies at regional and international levels. Germany has had a high-tech prosperous defense industry. German exports to different countries include tanks, guns, patrol boats, all-terrain vehicles, aerial refueling equipment, drones, and parts for combat aircraft and armored vehicles, according to the German news agency DPA.

Home defense industry
Meanwhile, the head of a major military development firm said Thursday that Saudi Arabia is striving to develop a homegrown defense industry but cutting reliance on foreign equipment will take years.
The Kingdom is the world’s third-biggest defense spender, but only 2 percent of that outlay is local.
Riyadh targets 50 percent domestic defense content by 2030, under a wide-ranging vision to diversify the oil-dependent economy.
“It’s going to take some time to put it into practice. You’re talking about a few years down the road,” Mohamed Al-Mady, governor of the Kingdom’s Military Industries Corporation, told Agence France Presse when asked how soon products could be available.
It is too early to say what type of gear the Kingdom could manufacture because a “final strategy” is still being developed, he said.
“Then we will know exactly which sectors” will be the focus, Al-Mady said on the sidelines of the Asbar World Forum in Riyadh.
The Saudi defense industry currently consists of just seven companies and two research and development centers.
It has already begun developing spare parts, armored vehicles and ammunition but will expand “to higher value and more complex equipment such as military aircraft,” according to the Kingdom’s Vision 2030.
With the strategy still evolving, Al-Mady could not say whether aircraft production was a realistic goal.
Saudi Arabia has traditionally bought its arms from the United States, Britain and France.
“We visited a number of countries around the world to learn from their experience” in defense manufacturing, Al-Mady told the forum, specifically citing South Korea and Turkey. 
“We need all types of products that we brought from outside,” said the former vice chairman and CEO of Saudi petrochemicals giant SABIC. “We have to manufacture them locally.”

— With input from Agence France Presse 


Brother of Saudi student missing in the Philippines laments ‘weak’ search effort

Updated 11 min 42 sec ago
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Brother of Saudi student missing in the Philippines laments ‘weak’ search effort

JEDDAH, ISLAMABAD: The brother of a Saudi aviation student, who went missing over a week ago while on a training flight in the Philippines, on Sunday criticized the government for its “very weak” search efforts and the Saudi Embassy in Manila for its lack of help.
Abdullah Khalid Al-Sharif, a 23-year-old student at the Orient Flying School, was on a training flight on May 17 in Occidental Mindoro province when contact was lost with his plane. His flying instructor, Capt. Jose Nelson Yapparcon, is also missing.
The Philippine Navy told Arab News that the BE55, a light twin-engine aircraft, was believed to have crashed in the San Jose Strait, about 42 km from the nearest shoreline.
“There are efforts made by the Philippine government but they are very weak,” Abdul Majeed Al-Sharif, Abdullah’s older brother, told Arab News. “No cooperation from the (Saudi) embassy.”
“Still searching through our personal efforts. My uncle, my elder brother and my cousin … We brought, by our own efforts, a sonar to search under the water. We needed the embassy’s efforts to facilitate our work with the authorities, but they didn’t help unfortunately.”
A civil aviation authority spokesman, Eric Apolonio, said the flying school had hired two private divers, two technicians and sonar equipment to continue the search operation.
The Saudi embassy said on Sunday it had set up a team that was working around the clock with Philippine authorities to find the missing trainee and his instructor.
“The Saudi Foreign Ministry constantly follows up with the embassy on the search for the student,” the statement said. “We will continue to make efforts to search for him in coordination with the Philippine Interior Ministry, the Defense Ministry, the civil aviation authority and other agencies.”
Philippine Navy fleet commander Rear Admiral Giovanni Carlo Bacordo said the supposed crash site, based on the aircraft’s last known location, was about 42 km from the nearest shoreline with depth of waters in the area exceeding 600 feet, beyond the capacity of technical divers and equipment.
“You can’t do any salvage operations with our equipment given the depth of the waters in the area,” Bacordo told Arab News, saying the side-scan sonar being used by the navy could only penetrate up to about 180 feet. “It’s also beyond the capacity of our technical divers, who can only go as far as 100 to 300 feet.”

Previous search operations conducted by the navy, along with the Philippine Coast Guard immediately after the crash, have failed to yield results.
Apolonio said the Orient Flying School had hired a sonar with a greater capacity than the equipment used by the navy.
“It can detect more than the expected depth of the area,” he told Arab News, and the (Orient Flying School) operators already coordinated with the navy in the area so they can start new search operations.”
But weather conditions in the area were also hampering the search effort, he added, and the search area may have to be expanded because of the undercurrent.
Apolonio also confirmed that the plane had been involved in a previous accident, in Palawan province in July 2015, but that as far as he knew the aircraft had passed all safety protocols before the May 17 flight.
“We have safety procedures and a checklist and it (aircraft) passed all these. It has been used as a trainer aircraft for years now,” he said, adding that the possibility that the aircraft had developed a problem could not be ruled out.
The spokesman said a statement about the pair would be released only after they were found.
“As of now, we can’t announce what really happened,” he said, adding that the aviation authority was closely communicating with Saudi Arabia’s diplomatic mission in the Philippines.
The Al-Arabiya news website reported Al-Sharif as saying that he believed his brother and the instructor were still alive.
Al-Sharif said a friend of his in the Kingdom had called his missing brother’s number on Saturday several times and that a stranger had answered the call on the fourth time.  
It was a five-minute call with a Filipino, according to the Al-Arabiya report.
“My friend did not understand what she was saying, she was talking loudly. After asking her if she can speak in English, she answered yes, then the call was cut off.” Al-Sharif said his friend called again, but the mobile was switched off.
Al-Sharif also said a fisherman had found a bag containing the instructor’s identity card, bank cards and pictures but that none of his brother’s belongings were found. He said his brother may have been kidnapped.
Saudi Arabia’s Ambassador to the Philippines Dr. Abdullah bin Nasser Al-Busairi said the embassy knew about the call. “We have handled it delicately. We sent all the information to security services for site monitoring, and we confirm that the embassy and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Saudi Arabia are very interested and concerned with following the details of the case,” Al-Arabiya reported the ambassador as saying.
The ambassador also denied the embassy had been unhelpful. The lack of publicity was at the request of the family, who did not want to talk to the media, he told Al-Arabiya.