Lockheed Martin evaluates 400 Saudi Arabian firms in defense review

Chief executive of Lockheed Martin in Saudi Arabia, Joseph Rank. (Supplied)
Chief executive of Lockheed Martin in Saudi Arabia, Joseph Rank. (Supplied)
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Updated 22 February 2021

Lockheed Martin evaluates 400 Saudi Arabian firms in defense review

Chief executive of Lockheed Martin in Saudi Arabia, Joseph Rank. (Supplied)
  • Kingdom ramps up sector with aim to spend half of its military budget with local companies by 2030

JEDDAH: With a recent joint agreement with Saudi Arabian Military Industries (SAMI) to enhance the Kingdom’s defense capabilities and localize its military industry, Lockheed Martin (LM) has become a vital partner in the development of the Kingdom’s defence capabilities as part of Vision 2030.

The agreement states that SAMI will own 51 percent of the joint venture with LM, which aims to establish a research and development center, to be named the KSA Defense Systems Engineering & Technology Center of Excellence (DSTC).

“The DSTC will deliver critical defense mission capabilities to meet the urgent and long-term needs of the Ministry of Defense (MoD) in systems engineering, system integration and test and Research & Technology (R&T) defense domains,” Joseph Rank, the chief executive at Lockheed Martin in Saudi Arabia, told Arab News.

LM will be leveraging its defense and aerospace products and experience to support the General Authority for Military Industries (GAMI) and SAMI, while simultaneously providing human capital development to Saudi employees within the center and establishing a Saudi defense supply chain, he said.

Saudi Arabia’s defense budget is one of the largest in the world – reportedly $80 billion in 2018 – and LM aims to make sure more of this budget is spent at home. When SAMI was launched in 2017 only 3 percent of Saudi Arabia’s defense spending was spent locally. The Kingdom is aiming to increase this to 50 percent by 2030 with the help of LM is part of achieving this target.

“Our plan focuses on two main areas. First, we work closely with the US government to identify technologies that are releasable to our partner nations. Second, we work very closely with the Saudi authorities to identify which localization projects are economically viable and of value to the Kingdom,” explained Rank.

As part of this collaboration, LM has evaluated more than 400 companies in Saudi Arabia to gain a thorough understanding of the Kingdom’s defense needs. “The process is still ongoing, but we are on the way to helping our Saudi partners develop into world-class producers of military equipment,” Rank said.

LM is working across a variety of technologies in sectors such as aviation, cyber, naval and land systems. “The main objective is to bring capabilities that are in line with the requirements and needs of the armed services and assist in the development of these capabilities in partnership with local industrial companies. The focus is on the design, integration, training and lifetime support of military equipment and services,” he added.

The US company has witnessed “some slowdowns” during the pandemic, just like everyone else, but Rank said the impact was minimal. “We have invested heavily in protecting our global supply chains and deployed proactive measures to position ourselves for the fastest possible recovery. Here in Saudi Arabia, we have been impressed by how rapidly our partners and key stakeholders were able to transition to remote working and teleconferencing protocols,” Rank said.

Saudi Arabia’s agility and technology adoption has enabled LM and ensured many initiatives remain on track, he continued.

The Kingdom’s stance on encouraging the development of its people has pushed LM to invest in various educational programs, including funding the MBSC (Mohammed Bin Salman College) for Business in Jeddah, developing technology development curriculums with GAMI and a signed Master Research agreement with King Abdulaziz University in Jeddah.

LM has signed further agreements to develop theory and on-hand training with the King Abdulaziz City for Science and Technology, King Saud University, King Abdullah University of Science and Technology, King Fahd University of Petroleum and Minerals and Jeddah University.

For its future endeavors, the company hopes to support the Saudi Space Commission on several programs through internships and training. The Saudi Geostationary Satellite 1 (SGS-1), manufactured by Lockheed Martin and first launched in 2019, is going to push the Kingdom forward through its space economy journey.

LM has also entered an agreement with the Saudi Technology Development and Investment Company (TAQNIA) to develop space systems, building satellite testing facilities and expecting further expansion in the future.

There is certainly a lot of scope for potential partnership. The CEO of SAMI told Reuters this week the defense company is aiming to be one of the top 25 in the world by 2030, generating annual revenue of $5 billion.


India merchants almost halt exports to Iran as its rupee reserves fall

India merchants almost halt exports to Iran as its rupee reserves fall
Updated 49 sec ago

India merchants almost halt exports to Iran as its rupee reserves fall

India merchants almost halt exports to Iran as its rupee reserves fall
  • Under US sanctions, Tehran is unable to use US dollars to transact oil sales
  • The Islamic Republic was buying mainly basmati rice, tea, sugar, soymeal and medicines from India

MUMBAI/ DUBAI: Indian merchants have almost entirely stopped signing new export contracts with Iranian buyers for commodities such as rice, sugar and tea, due to caution about Tehran’s dwindling rupee reserves with Indian banks, six industry officials told Reuters.
“Exporters are avoiding dealing with Iran since payments are getting delayed for months,” said a Mumbai-based dealer with a global trading house.
Iran’s rupee reserves in India’s UCO and IDBI Bank , the two lenders authorized to facilitate rupee trade, have depleted significantly and exporters are not sure whether they would be paid on time for new shipments, the dealer said.
Under US sanctions, Tehran is unable to use US dollars to transact oil sales.
Iran previously had a deal to sell oil to India in exchange for rupees, which it used to import critical goods, including agricultural commodities, but New Delhi stopped buying Tehran’s oil in May 2019 after a US sanctions waiver expired.
Tehran continued using its rupees to buy goods from India, but after 22 months of no crude sales, Iran’s rupee reserves have fallen, said the sources, who asked not to be named, citing business privacy.
Iran’s reserves have reduced significantly and “will be over soon probably because trade has stopped,” said a senior official with IDBI Bank.
The Islamic Republic was buying mainly basmati rice, tea, sugar, soymeal and medicines from India.
“Rice exporters are concerned about the current payment mechanism,” said Vijay Setia, a rice exporter and former president of the All India Rice Exporters’ Association (AIREA).
“There was too much of delay in payments from last year’s shipments. Exporters received payments six months after shipments,” Setia said.
In the first quarter of 2020 Iran imported nearly 700,000 tons of basmati rice from India, but in the same period this year shipments would be “very negligible,” Setia said.
Last year, Iran was the biggest buyer of India’s basmati rice and sugar. Iran fulfils more than one-third of its sugar and rice demand through imports, traders estimate.
Iran’s trade ministry and Central Bank of Iran declined to comment on the matter.
“We are in talks with Indian government and Indian traders to resolve these payment issues and I believe it will be resolved soon,” said a senior Iranian official, who asked not to be named due to the sensitivity of the matter.
“The delay in payments are due to US sanctions on Iran’s financial system that has made such payments very difficult,” he said.
As rupee reserves have depleted and dollar trade is not allowed, sugar exporters are exploring options to conduct trade in euros, Rahil Shaikh, managing director of MEIR Commodities India, said.
Sugar exporters are focusing on other destinations like Indonesia and Sri Lanka, as Iran is unlikely to buy significant quantities this year, said Shaikh.
India’s overall exports to Tehran fell 42% in 2020 from a year ago to $2.2 billion, the lowest in over a decade, said an official with India’s Ministry of Commerce and Industry.
The fall is continuing in 2021 and in January this year exports more than halved from a year ago to $100.20 million, the official said.
India’s ministry of commerce and industry did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Trading houses and exporters were hoping new US President Joe Biden could reverse sanctions imposed by his predecessor Donald Trump on the oil-rich country.
“Exports would rebound even if Biden administration provides a few concessions to Iran like allowing oil trade in rupees,” said a Mumbai-based dealer with a global trading firm.


Saudi Arabia pays out more than $16m in salaries to employees of distressed companies in February

Saudi Arabia pays out more than $16m in salaries to employees of distressed companies in February
Updated 36 min 19 sec ago

Saudi Arabia pays out more than $16m in salaries to employees of distressed companies in February

Saudi Arabia pays out more than $16m in salaries to employees of distressed companies in February
  • Kingdom helps to pay wages of distressed firms
  • Governments worldwide forced to help employees

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia paid the salaries of 349 workers employed by distressed companies last month, SPA reported.
Some SR60.5 million ($16.1 million) was paid according to the February wage report published by The Saudi Ministry of Human Resources and Social Development.
The pay out included late salaries and end-of-service benefits.
Saudi Arabia moved to support pandemic-hit firms last year by announcing plans to help some employers struggling to pay their staff. Governments worldwide have engaged in different ways to avert mass layoffs across their economies over the last year.


36,000 construction workers on Saudi Arabia’s Red Sea project given smart badges

36,000 construction workers on Saudi Arabia’s Red Sea project given smart badges
Updated 04 March 2021

36,000 construction workers on Saudi Arabia’s Red Sea project given smart badges

36,000 construction workers on Saudi Arabia’s Red Sea project given smart badges
  • System tracks worker and vehicle movements
  • Supports immediate security alerts to central team

RIYADH: Some 36,0000 construction workers on one of Saudi Arabia’s biggest real estate projects are to be given smart badges.
The Red Sea Development Company has awarded a contract to Machinestalk to provide smart badges and wireless tagging solutions, for its construction workforce and fleet of vehicles, according to a statement on the Saudi Press Agency.
Machinestalk will deploy a “LoRaWan” network over the project area of 3,500 square kilometers, in addition to launching an Internet of Things (IoT) platform, that will also help to track 3000 vehicles in operation on site, said CEO, John Pagano.
The smart badges will control access to areas of the sprawling site preventing unauthorized individuals and vehicles from entering.
The badges will also enable everyone to report any security or safety issues to a dedicated emergency response and security center.
The first phase of the project will see 14 luxury and hyper-luxury hotels across five islands and two inland resorts, providing more than 3,000 hotel rooms.
It will also include a new airport, a yacht marina, leisure and lifestyle facilities, as well as supporting logistics and utilities infrastructure, including 75 kilometers of new roads, according to the company’s website.
The destination is expected to be fully completed by 2030.


World food prices rise to highest level since July 2014

World food prices rise to highest level since July 2014
Updated 04 March 2021

World food prices rise to highest level since July 2014

World food prices rise to highest level since July 2014
  • UN food agency said the surge was led by jumps in sugar and vegetable oils
  • Sugar prices climbed 6.4 percent month on month amid concerns over supplies in 2020/21

ROME: World food prices rose for a ninth consecutive month in February, hitting their highest level since July 2014, led by jumps in sugar and vegetable oils, the United Nations food agency said on Thursday.
The Food and Agriculture Organization’s food price index, which measures monthly changes for a basket of cereals, oilseeds, dairy products, meat and sugar, averaged 116.0 points last month versus a slightly revised 113.2 in January.
The January figure was previously given as 113.3.
The Rome-based FAO also said in a statement that worldwide cereal harvests remained on course to hit an annual record in 2020, adding that early indications pointed to a further increase in production this year.
FAO’s cereal price index climbed 1.2 percent month on month in February. Among major coarse grains, sorghum prices increased the most, rising 17.4 percent on the month and 82.1 percent year on year, driven by strong demand from China.
Maize and rice prices edged up while wheat export prices remained largely stable, FAO said.
Sugar prices climbed 6.4 percent month on month amid concerns over supplies in 2020/21 because of production falls in major producing countries and strong demand from Asia.
The vegetable oil price index increased 6.2 percent to reach its highest level since April 2012, with palm oil prices rising for a ninth month, lifted by worries over low inventories in major exporting nations.
Dairy prices rose 1.7 percent, while the meat index posted a modest 0.6 percent gain. FAO said pig meat quotations fell, hit by reduced purchases from China amid heavy oversupply and a rise in unsold pigs in Germany due to a ban on exports to Asian markets.
FAO raised its forecast for the 2020 cereal season to 2.761 billion tons from an estimate of 2.744 billion made last month pointing to a 1.9 percent increase year on year.
That revision reflected a 7.5 million ton increase in the world wheat production estimate, driven by recently released official data from Australia, the European Union, Kazakhstan and Russia.
The forecast for global rice production was also raised by 2.6 million tons from last month on more buoyant production forecasts from India.
FAO raised its forecast for global cereal stocks ending in 2021 by 9 million tons to 811 million which would represent a 0.9 percent decline year on year.
“Looking ahead, current indications suggest a small rise in world cereal production in 2021,” FAO said.
“While most of the wheat crop in the northern hemisphere is still dormant and southern hemisphere countries are yet to plant, FAO’s preliminarily forecast for global wheat production in 2021 points to a third consecutive annual increase, to 780 million tons, a new record.”


Egypt’s ‘Scorpion King’ turns venom into money

Egypt’s ‘Scorpion King’ turns venom into money
Updated 04 March 2021

Egypt’s ‘Scorpion King’ turns venom into money

Egypt’s ‘Scorpion King’ turns venom into money
CAIRO: Surrounded by thousands of live scorpions in a laboratory deep in Egypt’s Western Desert, Ahmed Abu Al-Seoud carefully handles one of the curved-tailed arachnids before extracting a drop of its venom.
A mechanical engineer who worked in the oil sector for almost two decades, Abu Al-Seoud decided in 2018 to strike a different path — producing scorpion venom for pharmaceutical research purposes.
“I was surfing the Internet and saw scorpion venom was one of the most expensive on the market,” said the 44-year-old, clad in a white lab coat.
“So I thought to myself: Why not take advantage of this desert environment where they roam around?“
Biomedical researchers are studying the pharmaceutical properties of scorpion venom, making the rare and potent neurotoxin a highly sought-after commodity now produced in several Middle Eastern countries.
“Dozens of scorpion-derived bioactive molecules have been shown to possess promising pharmacological properties,” said a review published last May in the journal Biomedicines.
It said labs are now studying its potential anti-microbial, immuno-suppressive and anti-cancer effects, among others, hoping to one day use or synthesize them for medicines.
Abu Al-Seoud is from the Dakhla oasis, located in Egypt’s vast New Valley province and around 800 kilometers (500 miles) southwest of the capital Cairo.
Sand dunes and towering palms surround his laboratory, which he affectionately calls the “Scorpion Kingdom.”
“Here, every family has a story about a scorpion sting,” Abu Al-Seoud said.
To get the animals to secrete venom in the controlled conditions of the lab, the scorpions are given a slight electric shock.
Workers wait 20-30 days between extractions to obtain the highest quality venom.
“What matters is the level of purity,” Abu Al-Seoud said, adding that one gram requires the venom of 3,000-3,500 scorpions.
The liquid is refrigerated and transported to Cairo, where it is dried and packaged for sale as powder.
The laboratory “is certified (by the government) and has the ability to export this unique product,” said 25-year-old Nahla Abdel-Hameed, a pharmacist who works at the center.
Abdel-Hameed referred to some scientific studies that explored the healing benefits of the venom in curing certain diseases.
Mohey Hafez, a member of the pharmaceutical chamber at the Federation of Egyptian Industries, was more cautious in his assessment of its current uses.
“Scorpion and snake venoms can be used in making antisera,” he explained to AFP.
“There is no ready-made medication that entirely depends on the venom as a direct ingredient, but there has been promising research into its uses.”
New Valley province boasts around five different species of scorpions, including the sought-after deathstalker (Leiurus quinquestriatus), whose venom sells for up to $7,500 per gram, according to Abu Al-Seoud.
While he himself also catches the creatures, he employs residents of nearby villages for the risky activity, equipping them with gloves, tweezers, boots, UV lights — and antivenom.
The scorpion hunters earn one to 1.5 Egyptian pounds (around six to 10 cents) per animal.
Pharmacist Abdel-Hameed said the arachnids are caught in residential areas so as not to harm “the ecological balance.”
“I classify them according to the area where they were caught, the species and size,” she said.
Her colleague Iman Abdel-Malik said that although the scorpions could go without eating for long periods, they were given “food and protein to increase the toxin excretion” — comprised of cockroaches and worms twice a month in the summer, and less during the winter hibernation.
There are plans to breed the scorpions in the future rather than catching them, the veterinarian aged in her 20s added.
About 20,000 of the animals have been collected so far, according to business partner Alaa Sabaa, while the lab has a maximum capacity of 80,000.
He said the first scorpion venom extractions took place in December and January after two years of preparations, and yielded “three grams of venom.”
The self-financed project has so far cost about five million pounds, or around $320,000, he said, and has also attracted government support.
They also extract bee venom and sell agricultural products, including aromatic plants.
While Egypt has been producing various types of venom for years, Abu Al-Seoud said, it was often done illegally or was of poor quality.
He said he hoped his operation would one day be an antidote to the country’s “bad reputation” in the sector.
“We are trying to show off the country’s capabilities... through a high-quality product that has been studied scientifically as well as produced and exported legally,” he said.