Hurriyet Daily News & Economic Review reports that the US State Department has approved the resale of 6 Saudi C-130E Hercules medium tactical transport planes to Turkey, green-lighting a deal that was struck in summer 2010. Under US law and the terms of its arms sales, State Department approval is required when reselling any American defense items to 3rd countries.
Turkey is reportedly buying the planes at a bargain price.
On Nov 14/06, a US Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA) notice hinted that Saudi Arabia was about to become the first F-15 operator to switch its Pratt & Whitney F100 jet engines for General Electric’s F110, as part of a wider-ranging upgrade program for Saudi Arabia’s multi-role air superiority and strike fighters.
There’s often a long delay between the DSCA announcement and a contract, let alone delivery. Saudi Arabia’s F-15S variant did become the first fleet to perform a re-engining switch, however, and other upgrades are also underway.
Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Defense & Aviation & Inspectorate General has awarded Greece’s Hellenic Aerospace Industry (HAI) and its local and the Middle East Propulsion Company (MEPC) partner a 3-year, $43 million contract to maintain the Royal Saudi Air Force’s T56 turboprop engines. Under this competitive tender, the partners will provide maintenance, repair, overhaul, and testing services for T56 engines, modules and components. The engines run on the RSAF’s fleet of around 42 C-130/L-100 Hercules aircraft variants, located at Jeddah, Riyadh, and nearby Price Sultan Air Base.
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.
On Sept 9/08 The US Defense Security Cooperation Agency announced [PDF] an official request from Saudi Arabia for 12 AH-64D Block II Apache Longbow Helicopters, and associated items. The request, which could result in $598 million worth of contracts, would be used by the kingdom:
“…for its national security, and protecting its borders and oil infrastructure. The aircraft will provide the Saudi military more advanced targeting and engagement capabilities. The proposed sale will provide for the defense of vital installations and will provide close air support for the Saudi military ground forces. This sale also will increase the Royal Saudi Air Force (RSAF) APACHE sustainability and interoperability with the U.S. Air Force, the Gulf Cooperation Council countries, and other coalition air forces.”
Saudi Arabia already has 12 AH-64A Apaches, in service with 2 Aviation Battalion at King Khalid Military City, in the country’s northeast near Kuwait. A $400 million August 2006 DSCA request would have upgraded those helicopters to AH-64D status, but DID has seen no follow-on contracts to that effect. This request involves new equipment, including:
Saudi Arabia has an unusual land forces structure whereby it has an “American brigade” (8th Armored Brigade) currently armed with US equipment like M1 Abrams tanks, M2 Bradleys et. al., and a “French brigade” (4th Armored Brigade) armed with French equipment including AMX-30 tanks, AMX-10P APCs, et. al. This approach hedges against supplier continuity and creates wider markers for geopolitical favors, at the cost of increased maintenance burdens, and potential logistical and interoperability headaches. Which are generally outsourced via comprehensive maintenance contracts.
Developed as a private venture by France’s Giat Industries (now Nexter), the CAESAR system is based around a light 155mm/52 caliber howitzer, mounted on a 6×6 truck chassis fitted with an armored cab. The air-portable mobile howitzer system has been sold to France and Thailand, but its export history had not been as successful as Giat had hoped – and it has a very interesting history in the USA.
In July 2006, Giat Industries announced an export contract for 76 of its CAESAR artillery systems, mounted on a Soframe-Unimog truck chasis. While Giat would not confirm the customer, Agence-France Presse reported that they were destined for Saudi Arabia. This certainly fit expectations in the wake of the July 21/06 defense cooperation agreement it signed with France.
Since then, a number of French deals to Saudi Arabia have fallen through or been delayed indefinitely. A recent Jane’s report adds credence to the AFP reports, however, and indicates that the Caesar sale is moving ahead.
Gathering opposition in the US Congress has been slowing weapons requests from Saudi Arabia and resulted in postponement of the planned request for JDAM GPS-guided bombs. On Jan 14/08, the US DSCA announced the Government of Saudi Arabia’s official request for 900 Joint Direct Attack Munition (JDAM) tail kits: 550 GBU-38s for the 500 pound MK-82 bombs, another 250 GBU-31s for the 2,000 pound MK-84s, and 100 GBU-31s for BLU-109 2,000 pound “bunker buster” bombs). Also included are bomb components, mission planning, aircraft integration, publications and technical manuals, spare and repair parts, support equipment, contractor engineering and technical support, and other related elements of program support. The estimated cost is $123 million, and Boeing would be the prime contractor.
The JDAMs are specifically noted as being “for use on RSAF F-15S aircraft”; though its Tornado GR4 fleet would also present a logical set of candidates, JDAM requires a MIL-STD-1760 data bus. Implementation of this sale would require the assignment of approximately 4 contractor representatives to Saudi Arabia to provide technical assistance to integrate the weapons into the operational units, plus annual 1 week Program Management Reviews in Saudi Arabia with U.S military and contractor personnel.
If the sale goes through. Congressional opposition hasn’t gone away, and the Saudi sale will face a serious fight.
On Dec 7/07 the US Defense Security Cooperation Agency announced [PDF] Saudi Arabia’s request for 40 of Lockheed Martin’s AN/AAQ-33 SNIPER Advanced Targeting Pods, which would replace the older LANTIRN twin-pod systems installed on Saudi F-15S Strike Eagles. Sniper ATP pods significantly enhance an aircraft’s strike capability by adding stabilized long-range laser tracking and targeting illumination, high performance day/night surveillance, GPS targeting capabilities, and even some air-air target detection and tracking abilities to aircraft using them.
Most DSCA announcements attract little attention, but Saudi sales are facing some political hurdles in Congress these days.
In December 2006, The Business online reported that the Saudi government was in talks to buy 36 Rafale fighter jets from the French, regardless of how ongoing issues with the Eurofighter Typhoon contract were resolved. The Dassault Rafale contract would reportedly be in addition to the Eurofighter, not an either-or deal. With support and complementary ordnance added in, this could easily become a $5-15 billion transaction of its own.
It was just the latest chapter in a string of reports along these lines that stretch back to at least April 2005. Now, a Reuters report indicates that interest in the French fighter may be fading.