The 2006 Saudi Shopping Spree: More Helicopters from Eurocopter
Saudi Arabia continues to place large defense orders. In addition to the $350 million contract for 24 Sikorsky UH-60L Black Hawks, Gulf sources are reporting that a defense cooperation agreement with France was signed on June 21, carrying in its train some major deals re: helicopters and tanker aircraft. The reported deal for 2-3 Airbus A330 MRTT aerial tanker & transport aircraft remains unclear, and will be covered once it’s finalized.
Defense-Aerospace.com has more specific details regarding the estimated EUR 6.9 billion/ $8.8 billion helicopter deal, however, which could involve as many as 132 aircraft of various types. These reportedly included:
64 NH Industries (EADS/ AgustaWestland) NH90s. 10 would be naval helicopters, with the other 54 being the TTH troop transport version (42 Royal Saudi Army, 12 National Guard). The NH90 TTH can carry slightly more than the Black Hawks, and has a rear ramp for unloading small vehicles as well. A recent Australian deal for 34 NH90 TTH helicopters was worth A$ 2 billion/ $1.475 billion; defense-aerospace.com estimates this deal at EUR 4 billion ($5.08 billion at current conversion), possibly owing to the large amount of foreign technical support and maintenance built into Saudi weapons purchases.
12 EADS Eurocopter Tiger attack helicopters. Version not specified, but likely to be similar to the Spanish/French Tiger HAD which addresses some of the shortcomings of earlier versions. Defense-Aerospace.com estimates this deal at EUR 1 billion ($1.27 billion at current conversion). This is an extremely high number given the number of aircraft, even with full-scale support; as such, it’s possible that their estimate includes an accompanying weapons purchase as well.
20 EADS Eurocopter AS 532-A2 Cougar CSAR helicopters. The Cougar is the Eurocopter upgrade/successor to the Aerospatiale Super Puma, which is now used to designate the AS 332 civilian aircraft. The AS 532-A2 is a specially-developed combat search and rescue (CSAR) version. Defense-Aerospace.com estimates this deal at EUR 800 million ($1.02 billion at current conversion).
32 EADS Eurocopter AS 550 Fennec light helicopters. Defense-Aerospace.com estimates this deal at EUR 300 million ($381 million at current conversion).
4 EADS Eurocopter AS 565 Panther naval CSAR helicopters. Note that the Panther is not connected to the larger Super Puma family; it is an AS 365 Dauphin derivative that uses more composites to improve stealth and corrosion resistance, and has upgraded systems. The Panthers could equip any of the kingdom’s modern frigates, including the F2000 Medina Class (Sawari I program), and can operate in conjunction with corvettes and smaller craft as well. Ironically, the Israelis also use the Panther; it equips their Saar 5 Eilat Class corvettes like the INS Ahi-Hanit, recently damaged off of Lebanon by a Chinese anti-ship missile.
Augusta-Bell 212 and 412 twin-Hueys 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, AS 365F Dauphins in naval attack and SAR variants, AS 532 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 roles.
With respect to the Saudis’ ability to use these helicopters in a naval role, the kingdom’s three F3000S Al-Riyadh Class frigates (Sawari II program Lafayette Class derivative) can accommodate Dauphin, Panther, Cougar, or NH90 helicopters. The FREMM frigates that Saudi Arabia is also rumoured to be interested in would have similar capabilities. Smaller ships like the F2000 Medina Class et. al. would likely be restricted to operating Dauphin and Panther helicopters at sea. Of course, the anti-submarine capabilities of the NH90 naval version also makes them suitable for basing from shore, in order to protect harbors et. al.
UPDATE: Defense-Aerospace announces that the deal has fallen through, supplanted by a $2.2 purchase of Mi17 and Mi-35 helicopters from Russia.
Additional Readings & Sources
- The Peninsula of Qatar (July 24/06) – Saudi raises defence spending
- Tribune-Libanaise (June 22/06) – The Geopolitics of Weapons Procurement in the Gulf States. Excellent analysis. A must-read.
- Scramble Air Force Orders of Battle – Royal Saudi Air Force
- GlobalSecurity.org – Royal Saudi Naval Forces
- Naval Technology – NH90 NFH ASW/ Transport Helicopter, Europe
- Eurocopter – The NH-90 TTH (Tactical Transport Helicopter)
- Army Technology – Tiger Attack Helicopter, Germany. Version not specified, but likely to be similar to the Spanish/French HAD.
- Air Force Technology – AS 532 U2/A2 Cougar Combat, Search and Rescue Helicopter, Europe. The Cougar is the Eurocopter upgrade/successor to the Aerospatiale Super Puma, which is now used to designate the AS 332 civilian aircraft.
- Army Technology – AS 565 Panther Multirole Light Helicopter, Europe. Note that the Panther is not connected to the larger Super Puma family; it is a Dauphin derivative that uses more composites to improve stealth and has upgraded systems.
- Army Technology – AS 550 Fennec Single-Engined Light Military Helicopter, Europe