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Military technology transfers from China will enable localized manufacturing in Saudi Arabia and the country will thus achieve a 50% localization rate in its military procurement by 2030

Saudi Arabia aims to achieve a 50% localization rate in its military procurement by 2030, and in pursuit of this goal, Chinese defense companies are good partners to collaborate with. Saudi Arabia still needs a few years to build a relatively complete industrial base and industrial chain to independently produce equipment for the army, navy and air force, but China can help it increase the pace, as it has the most complete industrial chain, told a Chinese military expert.

by Nicola e Gabriele Iuvinale

Amid Saudi Arabia's pursuit of military procurement localization, top Chinese defense products including fighter jets, drones, and armored vehicles have attracted great interest at an ongoing defense expo in Riyadh on Tuesday, with experts saying that Chinese arms firms can provide technology transfers that contribute to localized manufacturing.

A Chinese defense delegation and the Bayi Aerobatic Team of the Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA) Air Force are participating in the World Defense Show 2024 in the Saudi capital of Riyadh from February 4 to 8.

About 770 exhibitors representing more than 75 countries are attending the show, and the number of Chinese exhibitors and the size of the Chinese exhibition area are the largest after the host Saudi Arabia, China Central Television (CCTV) reported on Monday. 

The Chinese arms firms put a complete spectrum of their top products on display, ranging from land, sea, and air, including warplanes like the FC-31 stealth fighter jet, the JH-7 fighter bomber, the Y-20 strategic transport aircraft, the Y-9 tactical transport aircraft, and the AG600 amphibious, drones like the Wing Loong series, the CH series, and the FH series, plus vessels, tanks and armored vehicles, howitzers, and multiple launch rocket systems, radars, as well as air defense guns and missiles, according to media reports.

Saudi Arabia aims to achieve a 50 percent rate of localization in its military procurement by 2030, and in the pursuit of this goal, Chinese defense firms are good partners to cooperate with toward this goal, CCTV said.

Boosting localization rates for defense equipment to such a high rate in less than a decade is a challenging task for Saudi Arabia, and cooperation with China is the best choice in reaching this goal, said analysts.

Saudi Arabia still needs some years to build a relatively complete industrial foundation and industrial chain to be able to independently manufacture equipment for its army, navy, and air force, but China can help it increase the pace, as China owns the most complete industrial chain, Fu Qianshao, a Chinese military expert, told the Global Times on Tuesday.

Cooperation can start with Chinese firms building core components in China first, and sending them for assembly in Saudi Arabia, Fu said, noting that the localization rate can increase as Saudi Arabia gains industrial foundations in the process.

Chinese defense products are not only affordable, but also feature advanced technologies and are of top quality, another Chinese military expert who requested anonymity told the Global Times on Tuesday.

They also provide complete after-sales services and do not attach unreasonable political strings, the expert said.

Should customers require, some products come with technology transfers and cooperation, and even assembly lines are for sale, the expert said, noting that these will help build up the clients' defense industries, enable them to achieve independence in national defense.

On Monday, J-10 fighter jets from PLA Air Force's Bayi Aerobatic Team, for the first time, delivered a flight performance at the World Defense Show 2024, as the six aircraft completed challenging and spectacular maneuvers in front of the audience for over 20 minutes and displayed the pilots' skills and coordination, the PLA Air Force said in a press release on Tuesday.

It marked the Bayi Aerobatic Team's first visit to Saudi Arabia, and the first time that the PLA Air Force has used the YU-20 aerial tanker for aerial refueling support during the transition process of overseas missions, which allowed the Bayi Aerobatic Team to fly directly to Saudi Arabia without the need to stop at foreign airports, the Global Times learned from the PLA Air Force.

The Bayi Aerobatic Team's visit to and flight performances in Saudi Arabia displayed the PLA Air Force's capabilities and deepened friendship and connection with the Middle Eastern people, observers said.

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