x Abu Dhabi, UAE Friday 21 July 2017

EADS wins Saudi border security contract

Region The deal comes as Gulf nations including the UAE take moves to secure their borders in the face of illegal immigration and smuggled drugs and weapons.

EADS has won a major contract to build a hi-tech border security fence in Saudi Arabia, highlighting the growing market for homeland security projects as concerns grow over smuggling and illegal immigration. The European aerospace and defence group will implement a border security system along 9,000km of the kingdom's border, including a radar grid covering land borders with the UAE, Kuwait, Qatar, Jordan, Yemen and Oman. The five-year contract, worth between ?1.6 billion (Dh8.28bn) and ?1.98bn, is part of a burgeoning global industry concentrated on border security, which combines infrastructure, weaponry, intelligence, marine and aerospace elements. Saudi Arabia is the world's largest border protection market, worth US$20bn (Dh73.46bn) over the next 10 years, bigger than the US-Mexico and US-Canada border fence markets combined. Gulf nations in particular are reinforcing their borders against threats posed by illegal immigration and smuggled drugs and weapons. In the UAE, the recently created Critical National Infrastructure Authority (CNIA) ordered 34 interceptor boats from a local boat builder in a Dh460 million contract in February. Other agencies are considering big-ticket purchases for early airborne warning and control aircraft, as well as unmanned aerial systems to provide an "unblinking eye in the sky". EADS Defence and Security, a subsidiary of the French-German conglomerate, won the long-awaited deal consisting of a hi-tech security fence, security posts, and surface and aerial monitoring of Saudi land and sea borders. "We are committed to dedicate all our capacities and capabilities to deliver this programme on time," said Stefan Zoller, the chief executive of EADS Defence and Security. The company eclipsed rival bids from the US-based contractors DRS Technologies and Raytheon, LG Electronics of South Korea, Thales of France and BAE Systems in the UK. The project to protect the kingdom's borders, named MIKSA, was proposed in the 1990s, following the First Gulf War, to secure the Saudi-Iraq border. Saudi had previously awarded EADS a contract to build a security fence on Saudi's northern border, and yesterday's announcement extends the partnership to the rest of the kingdom's land and sea borders. EADS has linked up with a local partner, Al Rashid Trading and Contracting, to complete both projects. EADS has completed the first stage of the northern border project, consisting of a 30km fence at a cost of $900m. Dr Theodore Karasik, the director for research and development at the Dubai-based Institute for Near East and Gulf Military Analysis (INEGMA), said the contract fulfilled Saudi's land-based requirements but further deals would probably follow to shore up its marine defences. "It doesn't answer the entire bill, but it is a good first step," he said. The new border system will become one of the most expensive in the world, alongside the US-Mexico border fence, a project that gained traction following the September 11 2001 attacks on the US and subsequent fears of infiltration across the unmanned desert border with Mexico. While total project costs are unavailable, the US has set aside $2.7bn for the fence since 2006. One of the biggest contractors on the project is EADS's traditional rival, Boeing. In Saudi Arabia, a particular concern has been the mountainous border with Yemen and the danger from al Qa'eda militants and enemy operatives infiltrating the kingdom. In January, militants announced that they had merged the Yemeni and Saudi branches of al Qa'eda to form one group for the Arabian Peninsula. In addition to these networks, the Saudi interior ministry has been concerned about rising illegal immigration. The world's largest oil exporter is a major purchaser of defence contracts, which amounted to $38.3bn last year and could rise to $43.5bn this year, according to Jane's Defence Budgets. Some of the biggest recipients of this spending have been defence firms in the US, Britain and France. Last year, EADS earned ?43.3bn, including ?5.7bn from its Defence and Security unit. * with agencies igale@thenational.ae