The UK Government signed a Memorandum of Intent (MoI) with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) aimed at finalising discussions for the purchase of 48 Eurofighter Typhoon aircraft. The MoI was signed on 9 March, during a visit to the UK by Mohammed bin Salman, the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia.
The Royal Saudi Air Force (RSAF) ordered 72 Typhoons in 2006, and these were delivered between June 2009 and June 2017, equipping two squadrons (the Third and the Tenth) at King Fahad Air Base at Taif. The status of a third unit, the 80th Squadron, is uncertain. The 80th Squadron was once expected to transfer to the ‘new’ base being constructed (or more accurately rebuilt and upgraded) at King Saud Air Base, Hafr al Batin, near the Kuwaiti border. The delivery of any further RSAF Typhoons may finally allow the formation of a second Typhoon wing at Hafr al Batin.
The RSAF was the first Typhoon operator to gain an air-to-ground capability with the Tranche 2 aircraft (integrating the Thales Damocles LDP and Enhanced Paveway II dual mode GPS/Laser-guided bomb), the first to start gunnery training, the first to gain a night air-to-air refueling (AAR) clearance, and the first to use the Tranche 3 aircraft in combat. In late 2017 the RSAF took its Tranche 3 aircraft to Nellis AFB, Nevada where they made the Tranche 3 Typhoon’s Red Flag debut.
Many years ago, before Saudi Arabia had even ordered the Typhoon, the then-First Deputy Prime Minister of Saudi Arabia and Minister of Defence and Aviation, Crown Prince Sultan, reportedly declared his intention for the RSAF to have “200 plus” Typhoons in service by 2015, and an order for a further batch of 24-72 Typhoons has been eagerly awaited for some years.
Saudi Arabia had initially planned to manufacture (or at least assemble) 48 of its first 72 Typhoons but the in-Kingdom industrial programme (IKIP) failed to materialise, amid reports of ‘repeated hold-ups by Saudi Arabia regarding the choice of a build site’. A modification to the 72-aircraft Project Salam contract was signed in early 2012, with a renegotiated price, greater local participation in through-life support and with an agreement that the final batch of 24 aircraft would be delivered to Tranche 3 standards, with structural, electrical and cooling provision for AESA radar, and with provision for conformal fuel tanks.
It is expected that arrangements for local final assembly will play a key part in any discussions, as Saudi Arabia aims to develop key industrial capabilities critical to the delivery of its ambitious Vision 2030 programme.
by Jon Lake