Saudi Arabia is to train its first 22 pilots and initial engineers for the Eurofighter Typhoon alongside their Royal Air Force counterparts, following Riyadh's delayed signature of a 72-aircraft deal worth £4.4 billion ($8.8 billion).
In a clear sign of the strengthening relationship between the Saudi and UK governments and their respective armed forces, the formal launch of "Project Salam" followed almost 21 months of detailed negotiations, and an abandoned investigation by the UK Serious Fraud Office into earlier arms sales between the countries.
Announced via the official Saudi Press Agency on 17 September, six days after its signature, the new government-to-government deal covers the procurement of aircraft for "a similar price" to those Typhoons being produced for the RAF, according to the Saudi defence ministry. However, further armaments and support contracts are expected to boost the deal's value substantially over the aircraft's service life.
Riyadh's first 24 Typhoons will be drawn from the UK's deferred delivery of early Tranche 2 examples from BAE Systems' Warton assembly line in Lancashire, with the remainder to be completed at a new facility in Saudi Arabia. Initial training will take place with the RAF's 29 Sqn Operational Conversion Unit at Coningsby in Lincolnshire, with the Royal Saudi Air Force eventually expected to receive six two-seat aircraft from the UK line from an eventual total of 18 trainers.
© Geoff Lee/Eurofighter
The UK Ministry of Defence says the sale "will support thousands of jobs in the UK and Saudi Arabia", while BAE - which has yet to receive its production contract from the UK government - adds that the deal also underlines its strategy "to continue to develop Saudi Arabia as a key home market".
BAE has supplied equipment including Hawk trainers and Panavia Tornado fighters to Saudi Arabia since the mid-1980s, with chief executive Mike Turner having previously valued this Al Yamamah business at more than £40 billion. The new sale also boosts export sales of the Eurofighter to 87, with Austria scheduled to receive its last of 15 interceptors by mid-2009.
Other recent signs of co-operation between the RAF and RSAF have included two bilateral exercises involving their Tornado forces since February 2006, while the UK service also recently sent a senior officer to Riyadh for the first time to serve as a liaison between the nations' air force chiefs.