The kingdom signed the e4.43bn ($9.22bn) Al-Salam agreement for 72 Eurofighters in late September, with the UK’s BAE Systems the main contractor (MEED 17:9:07). Defence sources say Riyadh is already considering a further round of procurement.
“The kingdom is set to decommission a number of aircraft and is thinking about a possible order for 24 more Eurofighters,” says a strategic affairs adviser to Riyadh.
“There is a need for new aircraft given the situation in the region, particularly the issue of Iran.”
The adviser says the kingdom is reviewing its options ahead of any overtures to defence contractors. Other possibilities would be the Rafale, built by France’s Dassault, or upgraded F15s from the US. However, both alternatives would present complications.
“Going with the French would involve building a completely new platform,” says the adviser. “Selling fighters to Saudi would face fierce political opposition in Washington.”
A deal is unlikely to be struck in the near future. Further contracts on the current arrangement covering munitions and training remain unsigned. They would bring the total value of the Al-Salam deal to about e20bn ($41.6bn).
UK defence officials and contractors say further deals have been discussed on an informal basis with their Saudi counter-parts.
However, they stress there has been no indication of key Saudi negotiators having been granted the authority to begin preliminary discussions on another deal, when so much remains unresolved with the current one.
“The deal was only signed in September,” says one official. “There is still a huge amount of work to be done on the current deal.”
Nonetheless, UK officials are optimistic of securing further Typhoon orders should the kingdom re-enter the market. The fighter is now the logical choice for further expansion of the Saudi airforce, given the existing financial outlay on both sides.
BAE, the largest shareholder in the Eurofighter consortium, has just moved into new facilities outside Riyadh and talks are ongoing on a location for the purpose-built aero-space manufacturing facilities to be built as part of Al-Salam.
BAE has undertaken to create 10,000 traineeships as part of the deal, as the kingdom endeavours to broaden its manufacturing base.
“It would be odd if those platforms and systems were put in place for just 48 planes,” says one defence official.
However, BAE is quick to distance itself from talk of a new deal. “We do not comment on such speculation,” says a company spokesman.