SECURING THE LIVES OF OTHERS

Saudi Arabia 2020 | INDUSTRY & DEFENSE | INTERVIEW

Managing risks posed by regional geopolitical disputes, companies and governments must be ready for the challenge posed by cybersecurity.

Idris Al Zakari

What role does Science Technology play in the Saudi economy?

Science Technology was established in line with the vision of transforming Saudi Arabia through industrial diversification with a major focus on military technology, which also has applications in other sectors. We started as a defense company involved in trade in 2010, since which time we have increased our revenues by around 30% YoY. With innovation at the core of our model, one of the most important aspects of our business is building JVs and partnerships: we fund R&D for new products with select countries; we have intellectual property partnerships with international companies and joint projects that use our own engineers; and invest in technology abroad as well as bring our own to market. We also invest in think tanks to better comprehend risk factors. Based on this, we decide on which technology to invest in and create the necessary partnerships and infrastructure. In that way, when political decisions are made, we are prepared.

What are the top three threats to Saudi Arabia in terms of cybersecurity?

Threats do not necessarily come from countries per se, but from assets within those countries. Saudi Arabia is always in a tough position. As the land of the Two Holy Mosques, it will always receive criticism, either from the Islamic community or the liberal-Western one. Thus, the unique nature of the Kingdom constantly requires key political decisions to be made, but more recently we have witnessed greater attention to the cost/benefit analysis with regard to every aspect of the state, including defense. This leads to more tailored approaches for any security issue we might encounter. We have a huge border, which requires appropriate defenses for national security, and the constant monitoring of many variables both within and beyond our country. Unsurprisingly perhaps, cybersecurity, having long been neglected, is an area where we are now heavily engaged.

What are the greatest opportunities available to JVs in the country, and what is your assessment of localizing the supply-chains of different industrial and military assets?

For the past 50-60 years, Saudi Arabia has predominantly been a consumer economy. As such, in terms of what area to invest in, we might well answer 'anywhere,' as no area thus far is saturated. Even food and beverages, a highly mature market, still shows some room for growth and for new players to enter, as demand remains huge. The defense industry, in this sense, is greenfield in nature. From an investment perspective, our scope is broad, although sometimes we need to think strategically in terms of how much a localization program would cost us in terms of time and money: for certain assets, such as jet fighters, it will always be cheaper simply to purchase from international companies. Some customers want an aircraft, a destroyer on the water, or a tank, without realizing that the world has changed, and that their thinking is outdated. Part of our job and innovation is to be ahead of the curve, and to help with the transformation of others.

What are your strategic priorities for 2019?

Within the numerous confidential projects that we are working on, our focus mainly remains on those related to capability transfer, which remains the most important aspect of our business. An example of this is our munitions technology, where we are working on enhancing precision and accuracy, rather than focusing on sheer quantity. We are also looking at equipment and tools concerning the security and defense segment, as well as drones, anti-drones, and remote-controlled turret systems.