Saudi Arabian companies will have a strong presence at this year’s Dubai air show, reflecting the nation’s high spending power among the six Gulf Cooperation Council states, and its multi-billion dollar air force procurement and modernisation efforts.
Supported by Western aerospace manufacturers including BAE Systems, Boeing, General Electric and Pratt & Whitney, Riyadh’s fledgling defence industry has over the past two decades developed to a point where it will soon advance from providing maintenance and support services on multiple aircraft types to performing final assembly work on 48 of the Royal Saudi Air Force’s future 72 Eurofighter Typhoons.
Signed with the UK government in late September, Saudi Arabia’s initially £4.4 billion ($9 billion) deal will start with the delivery of 24 Eurofighters already on order for the Royal Air Force under the programme’s Tranche 2 production deal with Germany, Italy, Spain and the UK. The aircraft will replace 24 Panavia Tornado air defence fighters, and some Northrop F-5s.
Final details of the government-to-government deal – such as where the Saudi-completed aircraft will be produced – have yet to be confirmed, although progress was expected during the state visit to the UK of King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz al Saud from 30 October until 1 November. But with the massive deal secured, the four-nation Eurofighter consortium has opted against having a formal presence at the Dubai show, with BAE to instead promote the Typhoon using a full-scale model.
Local Typhoon completions will further extend a process referred to by BAE as “Saudi-isation”. This has already seen the nation’s industry – including Dubai exhibitors Advanced Electronics and Alsalam Aircraft – gain experience in performing the first phase of a wide-ranging Capability Sustainment Programme upgrade to the RSAF’s Tornado interdictor strike aircraft.
Eight of the modified aircraft, which will eventually feature improved cockpit avionics, navigation systems, targeting equipment and new precision-guided weapons, visited the UK from August for exercise “Saudi Green Flag” alongside the RAF’s Tornado GR4-equipped 617 Sqn.
The introduction of similar skills across Saudi industry has also come through Boeing’s 50% holding in Alsalam, which has led to the company securing major contracts to provide technical support and depot maintenance work on the air force’s Tornados, Boeing F-15 fighters and KE-3 Airborne Warning and Control System aircraft. The company also holds contracts on the RSAF’s Lockheed Martin C-130 transports, Gulfstream and Bombardier Learjet-series business jets and helicopters including the Agusta-Bell 212/412, Boeing AH-64A Apache and Sikorsky UH-60.
Another major Saudi modernisation effort under way will see its air force’s 70 F-15S fighters undergo a propulsion system upgrade, with their P&W
F100-229 engines – the source of a long-term “sustainment problem” – to be replaced by GE F110-129Cs. GE has a contract worth more than $300 million to produce the first 65 of an expected 155 engines for the F-15S fleet.
Other Saudi exhibitors will include the national and regional arms of UK defence contractor BAE Systems, business aviation company Jet Aviation, fractional operator NetJets, and VIP air transport provider National Air Services.