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Pioneering Saudi Arabia’s Cyber Security and Advancing Sovereignty: An Exclusive Interview with Bernard Roux, CEO of Thales KSA and Central Asia

Diana Allam

At Eurosatory 2024, Security and Defense Arabia had the privilege of interviewing Bernard Roux, the CEO of Thales KSA and Central Asia. In this insightful conversation, Roux delves into how Thales, a global leader in cyber security and advanced defense technologies, is uniquely positioned to support Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030. He highlights the company’s strategic initiatives, including local manufacturing, R&D, and workforce localization, and the critical role Thales plays in enhancing national security and fostering technological innovation within the Kingdom. Here are some key excerpts from our interview with Bernard Roux.

As Thales is a global leader in cyber security, how do you tailor your cyber security solutions to address the unique challenges faced by critical infrastructure sectors in Saudi Arabia, especially with the rapid digital transformation and Vision 2030?

Actually, Cyber security is a global topic. So, we have made recently and even historically some strategic acquisition in the cyber security domain, in the digital identity and security domain, which allows us to be a key player, key stakeholder globally, worldwide. It allows us also to set up local activities in Saudi Arabia, first I would say to address the operational concern, but also to address the sovereignty in terms of industrial or localization, local footprint. For in that respect, we have signed during the Last Leap exhibition, 2 MOU’s one with the Aramco-Cyberani (a branch of Aramco). And also, with Aramco corporate to address the cyber security concern inside.

The challenge is, I would say first to serve the Aramco market inside and after that to expand to the overall Saudi Arabia and to go even beyond. So, we are ready to invest in terms of resources, competencies locally to share also the offshore development of intellectual property to better fit with the specificities of the challenges we couldn’t encounter in the region, and to further develop these competencies to address a wider market From Saudi Arabia.

Thales is known for its advanced technology in defense and aerospace. Can you share how your team in KSA is leveraging these technologies to not only enhance national security but also contribute to local technological innovation and talent development?

We are indeed well known for our competencies in defense and aerospace. And that’s why I think we could humbly contribute to the sovereignty of the nation of the kingdom in two aspects. First, in the operational aspects, our system can be deployed in a very sovereign manner with the full control of our customers. Second, we’re developing for each project, for each domain, we’d like to set in Saudi Arabia. And by the way, air surveillance air defense is one of them. Industrial sovereignty as well. We take that into account. We are making developments from Saudi Arabia to address the KSA market, we are making development in KSA to also enhance the competencies not only the technical one but also, I would say the training of Saudi national in the country and even further to that, to have together with us Ecosystem of companies. Thales rely globally on an ecosystem of SMEs in their value chain to be able to deliver the system. So, there are two aspects, once again, the operational sovereignty aspect, the industrial sovereignty aspect and overall, ultimately only that can be done with the right people, and the right team. And that’s why we bring the experts from Thales who are there for decades in contact with the young engineers, local engineers who are willing to develop their competencies and then to be part of the Thales Adventure. Last thing, there is a very concrete action taken by both Sami (Saudi Arabia Military Industry) and Thales, it is the creation of the joint venture; “Sami-Tales Electronic System” and all our different activities will be within this joint venture it will be fantastic tool to foster the creation of competencies within the kingdom to deliver both the operational and industrial sovereignty, which is necessary for the Kingdom.

Given the Saudi Vision 2030’s emphasis on local content and industry development, what specific steps is Thales taking to increase local manufacturing, R&D, and workforce localization within the Kingdom, and what challenges have you encountered in this process?

The first step was to find an agreement and a common vision with the local strategic partner, and this is SAMI. It is done. We are perfectly aligned for the contribution to the Vision 2030 of the Saudi Arabia the kingdom authority. We have different division within “SAMI-Thales Electronic System” we will develop air defense capabilities, industrial capabilities, we will have radars, and control centers. And also, for their system which allows to have an air defense system made in Saudi Arabia.

The challenges are always about the deployment of the vision. I will give you a few keys of success. The first is the willingness, we have it. The second one is to have an ecosystem of companies which are able to contribute to this industrial footprint and we are also ready to support their development. In front of supporting them technically, there is a need of investment from these SME’s, from these companies and we have also found from the authorities in the Kingdom a real willingness to invest in the companies to enhance their maturity and their capabilities in terms of industry. Last but not the least, this is the education. We need engineers in the kingdom, KSA national to be part of our teams at the partner level, at the subcontractor level and within also Thales or within the joint venture. So, for that there is a specific plan which needs to be put in place. We cannot just wait to hire someone to put I would say an advertisement of the job description on the market, we need to anticipate in which domain we will recruit engineers or I would say competencies in the kingdom and for that we need certainly to create an academy in the kingdom, so that’s what we are studying the creation of Academy, of course, in partnership and within the frame of what is defined by GAMI and by GADD as well. But this is a very strong point of attention to bring the young engineers up to a certain level that we can hire them within Thales, within the joint venture and they are up to the level expected to be part of our team and to deliver the sovereignty expected by the kingdom.

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