Fencing the Kingdom: EADS Lands Huge Saudi Border Deal
Border fences and related surveillance systems are becoming popular around the world, including the Middle East. As “Jordan’s JBSP Border Security Program” notes, these systems are not foolproof. They can offer important improvements, however, and in recent years, the risk of violence insourcing back to Saudi Arabia from Iraq prompted construction a fence along the kingdom’s northern border. That concept became a serious initiative in 2006, and is currently scheduled for completion by the end of 2009.
The northern fence was never designed to be a stand-alone effort. A much larger border project was first envisaged in the wake of the 1991 Gulf War, and The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has been conducting a 13-year long bidding competition for a more comprehensive set or border and infrastructure security measures. Bidders reportedly included France’s Thales and EADS, Britain’s BAE Systems, and Raytheon in the USA. Now, a contract worth a reported $2.3-2.8 billion has been issued for over 8,000 miles of fencing and surveillance. Even as Saudi Arabia’s biggest concerns have shifted away from its northern border…
On June 30/09, EADS N.V. announced:
“After being under contract for the northern border security, which is now under execution [DID: in cooperation with Al-Rasheed Trading Contracting], EADS Defence & Security has been awarded (as prime contractor) the border security program covering the full borders of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. This contract will be executed in the next 5 years and is the largest contract ever competed worldwide as a full solution… The Saudi border guard will benefit from a leading edge solution, providing visibility and operational awareness for about 9000km of borderline (mountains, deserts and sea borders). The solution will ensure border coverage is visible and managed at the sector level, whilst simultaneously providing situational awareness at the regional and national level.”
In English, this means a system of fences, watchtowers, radar, day/night cameras, and communications, with links back to command centers that can pool data at the local, regional and national levels.
Al Rashid Trading and Contracting Co. will remain EADS’ civil engineering partner for the larger project, and EADS had already set up a Middle Eastern office in Abu Dhabi rather than run the bid and the northern border contract from Europe. Arabian investments are expected to expand. EADS CEO Louis Gallois told the UK’s Financial Times that “several hundred” people would be hired for its construction over the project’s 5-year period, and Defense News adds that the Saudis will be trained to operate the security system by German border guards, via a “train the trainers” program.
Defense News reports that EADS was aided in its win by a list of previous wins in the United Kingdom, Romania, and Qatar, and by satisfactory performance on its northern border contract. That is true, but that is very rarely the entire story when dealing with defense contracts in Saudi Arabia.
That much fencing obviously applies to far more than just the Saudi Kingdom’s 560 mile lone northern border with Iraq. To the south, the Asir (“difficult”) region (see map) was taken from Yemen in 1934. It is the kingdom’s most densely populated and most geographically diverse, with the tallest mountains in Saudi Arabia. The Saudi border with Yemen stretches away farther toward the east as well, and that entire poorly-marked area is becoming a serious worry for the Kingdom.
Yemen is currently a key trans-shipment point for Somali pirates, a funnel for Islamists into Somalia, and a much more fragile state internally. In January, it also became the headquarters for the launch of “al-Qaeda in the Arabian peninsula,” a merger of the Saudi and Yemeni branches. The L.A. Times reports that:
“Saudi officials believe most of the weapons used in militant operations in Saudi Arabia – including some suicide attacks – were smuggled from Yemen… Securing the 1,300-km border with Yemen is a top Saudi priority… Several senior members of [Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula] are Saudis who slipped over the border after going through a militant rehabilitation program in Riyadh. In April, Saudis discovered a cave tucked in the remote Saudi mountains near the Yemeni border that was clearly a way station for Islamic militants.”
Yemen has never been very stable, and the situation there is grave enough that Yemen’s problems were reportedly one of the main reasons President Obama is delaying the release of Guantanamo Bay detainees, almost 100 of which are from Yemen.
Saudi Interior Ministry spokesman General Mansour al-Turki told the Financial Times that Yemen was a definite concern, adding:
“Of course terrorism is important, but there is also drug and weapons trafficking, and we also have to consider illegal immigrants.”
EADS CEO Louis Gallois is more focused on his plan to diversify EADS’ sources of revenue, and make Airbus a smaller overall contributor to a larger company. Their competitor Thales is already seeing significant wins, after making strategic capability investments in domestic security technologies. EADS appears to be headed down the same path, and Gallois understandably characterized the Saudi contract as “a major breakthrough in the security market which is booming.”
Contract & Key Events
July 14/09: FLIR Systems, Inc. announces an initial $2.4 million order from EADS Deutschland GmbH for its long-range Ranger HRC Multi-Sensor Systems, to be installed by EADS along the Saudi Northern Border for long-range security and surveillance missions under the Saudi Border Guard Development Program (SBGDP). The systems will be deployed on towers along specific sectors of the border, and will be networked with radar and other sensing equipment to form an integrated system.
FLIR Systems already does business in Saudi Arabia; among other deals, its RECON-III hand-held systems are used by Saudi forces.
- DID (Nov 28/12) – Saudi Arabia Orders $600M+ National Command System. Could the border surveillance system be linked in?
- NDIA’s National Defense (December 2009) – Saudi Arabia Securing its Borders with Sensors and Software
- The Tribune-Libanaise (June 22/06) – The Dynamics of Weapons Procurement in Gulf States. Must-reading in this area.