In February 2010 Defense News reported that Saudi Arabia’s fleet of Tornado low-level, medium-range strike fighters would soon be receiving a pair of significant enhancements: MBDA’s stealthy Storm Shadow medium range cruise missiles, and the MBDA/Boeing Brimstone anti-armor missile. The Storm Shadow would give the Saudis a potent long range strike capability against even heavily-defended targets, while the Brimstone missiles will allow Saudi fast jets to serve in an assault-breaker role, or offer reliable close air support for ground forces.
These developments were actually Phase 2 of an ongoing effort to keep the RSAF’s Tornado strike fleet relevant until at least 2020, under BAE Systems’ Saudi Tornado Sustainment Programme (TSP).
TSP: Goals and Gear
The amounts involved in the Saudi TSP are not small, but BAE didn’t think they were significant enough to require specific mention in the multi-billion dollar firm’s 2009 preliminary results. The TSP was understood to be worth around GBP 2.5 billion and cover 84 Tornado IDS jets, but in 2012, BAE Systems said it delivered just 73 upgraded aircraft under TSP.
In addition to Phase 1 efforts involving improved avionics displays, modernized communications technologies, GPS navigation, and other standard amenities, the strike fighters received deeper modernizations that will allow them to carry a wide range of modern precision-guided weapons. Phase 2 added new weapons and sensors, reportedly including MBDA’s Storm Shadow long-range cruise missiles and Brimstone short range strike missiles, and Thales’ Damocles targeting pod. A 2007 Flight International article quoted RSAF Lt Col Abdulaziz Al Qdairi, commander of RSAF 75 Sqn:
“TSP is upgrading the aircraft so that it will be capable of carrying any advanced weapons available not only Brimstone and Storm Shadow, [but also Paveway/Enhanced Paveway-series bombs and advanced air-to-air missiles]… We hope we will have such as these to make sure our air force has the latest weapons and technology. The goal is to reach the stage that the RAF is currently using with its GR4s.”
A 2013 BAE report said that all of these modifications have been made and tested, and all Saudi Tornado IDS fighter-bombers returned to the fleet.
Saudi Arabia also flew a fleet of Tornado F3 Air Defense Variant long-range interceptors, but they’re slated for retirement as the RSAF fields the 72 Eurofighters that were bought under a 2007 contract.
Contracts & Key Events
2010 – 2013
March 25/14: Paveway IV. Saudi Arabia is reportedly buying 500 pound Paveway IV bombs, with dual GPS and laser guidance, to equip its Eurofighter Typhoon fleet – and very likely the Tornado fleet as well. The GBP 150 million / $250 million purchase comes after long delays, created by American attempts to use its ITAR weapons export procedures for protectionist purposes. The 2010 request was reportedly cleared in February 2014. Deliveries are expected between 2015 – 2017.
It’s a timely order, as Britain’s replenishment buys are finishing up after about 4,000 total deliveries to the RAF. Elsewhere in the Gulf, Oman should begin receiving their Eurofighters soon, creating another potential export customer now that there’s a precedent for ITAR clearance. See also “DID’s Paveway-IV coverage“.
Dec 19/13: Long-term deal. In the middle of some very disappointing news regarding Eurofighter’s loss in the UAE, and a deadlocked Eurofighter upgrade deal in Saudi Arabia, comes one bit of good news. From BAE:
“BAE Systems’ long standing relationship with its much valued customer in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia remains excellent. The Group has been awarded substantial new business during 2013, including long term support agreements. Agreements have been concluded in December  for the supply of guided weapons and Tornado maintenance and upgrades with a combined value of approximately [GBP] 1.5 billion.”
Conversion rates translate to a $2.971 billion deal.
Support & weapons deal
Aug 1/13: BAE’s 2013 Half-Year Results [PDF] add more updates regarding TSP. Looks like more is coming:
“Following the completion of upgrades to the RSAF Tornado fleet in 2012 under the Tornado Sustainment Programme (TSP), discussions have commenced regarding further capability enhancements expected to be contracted during the second half of 2013. Under the TSP, further Storm Shadow missiles were delivered in the first half of 2013, with final deliveries due by the end of the year. A follow-on £0.6bn weapons contract was awarded in March, with deliveries expected to commence in 2014.”
Feb 21/13: BAE 2012 review. BAE’s end of year investor presentation [PDF] discusses changes in Saudi Arabia, including total support efforts.
“Under the Saudi British Defence Co-operation Programme (SBDCP), orders totalling £3.4bn were awarded for support through to 2016, including the provision of manpower, logistics and training to the RSAF…. Under the TSP, the upgrade of the RSAF Tornado fleet is complete, with all of the contracted aircraft having been delivered back into the RSAF fleet. Delivery of Storm Shadow missiles to the RSAF under the TSP is progressing in line with the agreed programme schedule. “
Feb 19/10: New strike weapons. Defense News reports that Saudi Arabia’s fleet of Tornado low-level, medium-range strike fighters will soon be receiving a pair of significant enhancements: MBDA’s stealthy Storm Shadow medium range cruise missiles, and the MBDA/Boeing Brimstone anti-armor missile.
2003 – 2009
Sept 7/09: IRIS-T missiles. Diehl BGT receives an interesting spin-off order for its 5th generation IRIS-T (InfraRed Imaging System – Tail/thrust vector controlled) short range air-air missiles, which will equip Saudi Arabia’s Eurofighter Typhoons and its Tornado strike aircraft. The size of the order was not announced.
The Saudis have ordered comparable American AIM-9X Sidewinder missiles for their F-15 fleet, but IRIS-T is a comparable missile that has already been integrated with Tornado and Typhoon aircraft belonging to Germany and Italy, removing the need for additional integration work. The Saudis could also have chosen MBDA UK’s AIM-132 ASRAAM, which is integrated on RAF Eurofighters.
IRIS-T emerged after Germany pulled out of the joint US-UK-German ASRAAM program. Testing with their “new” East German MiG-29s and AA-11/R-73 Archer SRAAMs led them to believe that ASRAAM’s entire philosophy was wrong, and so they sought to develop their own missile based on the AA-11’s lessons. IRIS-T is being developed by a multinational European consortium, and the missile has now been ordered by Germany, Denmark, Greece, Italy, The Netherlands, and Spain among consortium countries; plus small export orders to Austria, South Africa, and eventually Thailand. As of 2013, Saudi Arabia remains the first large-scale export order beyond the consortium.
IRIS-T SRAAM contract
Late 2007: 1st fully upgraded aircraft thought to have been delivered from BAE Systems. Most serial upgrades were reportedly done in Saudi Arabia, by the Riyadh-based Alsalam Aircraft Company. Source.
March 4/07: Flight International:
“Tornado Sustainment Programme aircraft ZH917 is pictured at BAE’s Warton site in Lancashire on 2 April carrying two Storm Shadow rounds, including one painted in high-visibility markings for possible test release purposes… BAE declines to comment… a UK source close to the negotiations confirms that the more than 250km (135nm)-range Storm Shadow is “among a number of systems” now being evaluated for possible integration as part of the Royal Saudi Air Force’s Tornado upgrade.”
MBDA’s Storm Shadow/Scalp is a long-range, stealthy cruise missile with precision strike capabilities.
Sept 12/06: British newspapers are reporting that BAE has won a GBP 2.5 billion (about $4.66 billion) contract to upgrade Saudi Arabia’s Tornado fighter aircraft, and that these measures are likely to keep the ground attack (Tornado IDS) and air-defense (Tornado F3) aircraft in service until 2020 or so. Defense News.
Saudi Arabia currently operates about 120 Tornado aircraft, including both the strike-optimized Tornado IDS (96 aircraft, Scramble places them within 7, 66, 75 & 83 Squadrons at Dhahran on the east coast), and Tornado F3 ADV long-range interceptors (24 planes in 29 Sqadron at Tabuk near Jordan).
Early 2005: BAE Systems enters a prototype phase, with 3 aircraft shipped to Warton: 2 IDS from 66 Sqn and 1 IDS(T) trainer from 75 Sqn. Source.
2003: BAE Systems announces that they’re negotiating an upgrade program for the RSAF’s Tornado IDS fleet, which was delivered from 1986. Source.
* DID – Grand Salaam! Eurofighter Flies Off With Saudi Contract. They will replace the Tornado F3 ADVs. By mid-2013, 28 of the 72 had been delivered.
* Flickr (Dec 12/11) – Cad East Saudi camo dec 21/2011. Pictures of RSAF Tornado ZK113. Very different from the 2009 gray camo.
* Arms Control Wonk (May 31/11) – Storm Shadow, Saudi & the MTCR
* Defense News (Feb 19/10) – Saudi Arabia Buys MBDA Missiles: Sources
* Airplane Photos (Dec 8/09) – Saudi Air Force Tornado TSP upgrade. Photographed as it stopped over at Malta, en route back to Saudi Arabia.