Saudi spending spree reaches trainer fleet

Yesterday saw the confirmation of an impressive 102-aircraft programme to equip the Royal Saudi Air Force with a new-generation pilot training fleet from 2014.

Brokered under a new agreement between the Saudi Arabian and UK governments, the deal includes 22 BAE Systems Hawk advanced jet trainers and – as revealed exclusively by my colleague Stephen Trimble on Flightglobal a full week before the announcement – a whopping 55 Pilatus PC-21s. Ground-based training equipment, personnel training and some in-service support is also included.

BAE puts the value of the programme so far at around £1.6 billion ($2.5 billion), with some elements still remaining to be confirmed. This includes a planned 25-strong fleet of primary trainers which will support candidate screening and initial flying instruction. Figures coming out of Riyadh say the total spend is likely to be around the $3 billion mark.

Riyadh needs new trainers to support its fleet of Eurofighter Typhoons (it has received its first 24 of 72) and 84 new Boeing F-15SAs and 70 upgraded F-15s.

Hawk KSA 560.jpgGoing for the Hawk AJT/PC-21 combination makes sense - Saudi Arabia already has 45 legacy Hawk 65/65As (Saudi Hawks display team aircraft pictured above, just because it’s a great shot – source BAE Systems) and 47 PC-9s in service. It’s unclear whether it will replace only its oldest 29 Hawk 65s under this deal, but it certainly looks like it has embraced the concept of “downloading” touted by trainer manufacturers for the last several years. Students will certainly be able to learn a lot from flying the PC-21, as reported by our test pilot Peter Collins from his assessment ride in the type in 2008.

This has been an exceptional week for Pilatus, which also today confirmed its receipt of a contract to deliver 75 Swiss-built PC-7 MkII trainers to the Indian air force.

But perhaps there are follow-on opportunities for BAE in Saudi Arabia too: will Riyadh maybe later order another batch of Hawks (Mr Trimble take note; pronunciation “Hork”, not “Hock”) to replace its younger Mk65A airframes? And will the Saudi Hawks also be in line for new jets? I don’t know the answer to either of those, but one thing’s for sure: this is certainly one customer which still has real money to spend.

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