Saudis May Go Russian As France Loses Out
Augusta-Bell 212 and 412 twin-Hueys, and Bell 205 single-engine Hueys, currently form the mainstay of Saudi Arabia’s current helicopter fleet. The RSAF also includes a squadron of AH-64A Apache attack helicopters, some S-70A-1L Black Hawks with desert modifications, AS365F Dauphins in naval attack and SAR (Search And Rescue) variants, AS532 Cougar SAR aircraft, AS332F-1 Super Pumas, Bell 406CS combat scouts, and a few Kawasaki/Boeing KV-107s (CH-46 Sea Knight variant) used in MEDEVAC (MEDical EVACuation) roles. In July 2006, “The 2006 Saudi Shopping Spree: “More Helicopters from Eurocopter” reported a tentative agreement for up to 132 helicopters: 54 NH90 TTH troop transports, 10 NH90 NFH naval, 32 AS 550 Fennec light helicopters, 20 AS 532-A2 Cougar CSAR(Combat Search And Rescue) helicopters, 4 AS 565 Panther naval CSAR helicopters, and 12 Tiger attack helicopters.
In October 2007, Defense-Aerospace, who announced the original agreement, announced that it has fallen through and been supplanted by a $2.2 billion Russian order. The expected French order has indeed been missing ever since, but reports of the claimed Russian order were also absent – until now.
Oct 20/10: Looks like Russia and France both lost. The US DSCA issues a series of official requests, covering 180 American utility, scout, and attack helicopters as components of up to $60 billion in potential defense orders. Read “A 2010 Saudi Shopping Spree” for full coverage.
Nov 13/09: Russia’s Pravda reports that Saudi Arabia is still in talks with Russia regarding the purchase of arms and military hardware. It quotes Konstantin Birulin, deputy director of the Federal Service for Military and Technical Cooperation. This would officially confirm the fact of the talks, which reportedly started in 2007, but also indicates that there is no deal yet. Pravda:
“In October, French media reported that Riyadh had signed an agreement with Moscow to purchase over 150 Russia’s Mi-35 helicopters (Hind on NATO classification) and Mi-17 (Hip). The deal was reportedly evaluated at over $2 billion. In addition, Arabia signed a contract with Russia to purchase state-of-the-art missile defense systems. The contract was about S-400 and Buk-M2E systems. The information about those contracts has never been acknowledged officially.”
Aug 24/09: RIA Novosti reports that Russia is concluding talks with Saudi Arabia on selling 30 Mi-171B helicopters, and hopes to sign a deal in September 2009. It adds that:
“The Arab state has traditionally bought only Western, mainly U.S.-made, civilian and military equipment, but has recently expressed an interest in acquiring Russian weaponry, including S-400 air defense systems, T-90 tanks, BMP-3 infantry fighting vehicles, and various types of helicopters… Russia’s Kommersant newspaper reported in July that Russia and Saudi Arabia discussed a number of deals worth an estimated $4 billion a year and a half ago, when the country’s Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal visited Moscow.”
Other reports place the exact buy at 150 helicopters (30 Mi-35 attack and 120 Mi-17 utility), over 150 T-90C tanks, about 250 BMP-3 infantry fighting vehicles and anti-aircraft systems that could include the S-400. See also Pravda | Agence France Presse.
Oct 30/07: Defense Aerospace reports that a Memorandum of Understanding for over 150 Mi-17 Hip utility helicopters and Mi-35 Hind attack helicopterswas signed in Riyadh in mid-September 2006 by King Abdallah bin Abd al-Aziz Al Saud’s private cabinet, adding that Eurocopter confirmed the Saudis’ choice of Russian helicopters. The article was amended on Nov 2/07 to include an official denial from Eurocopter, however, who claims no knowledge of the sale.
There are also rumors that T-90 main battle tanks and S-300/S-400 air-defense systems may also be about to replace previous plans to upgrade the Saudi “French brigade’s” AMX-30s with French Leclerc tanks, and supplant a larger Saudi effort to adopt MBDA’s Aster-30 SAMP/T air and missile defense system:
“Nexter, manufacturer of the Leclerc tank, and missile maker MBDA had no comment on the status of their dealings with Saudi Arabia.”
“France Loses Out as Saudis Sign $2.2 Billion Deal for Russian Helos” discusses the new arrangements, and also ventures some explanations as to what went wrong. Partial answer: the biggest contributor has been far too much pressure from Chirac’s administration to insist on linked bundles of equipment, rather than just accepting the client’s money, giving them what they asked for, and saying “thank you.”