Saudi Arabia and the UK have already concluded the huge contract for 72 Eurofighter Typhoon combat jets that has been in negotiation for 18 months, informed sources told Aviation International News yesterday. The deal will be worth about $16 billion for the airframes alone. At his lunch with President Nicolas Sarkozy in Paris today, Saudi King Abdullah may shake hands on another large package of more than 130 Eurocopter helicopters worth about $8 billion.
It is not clear when the UK government will confirm the signing of the Typhoon contract. One source suggested that the Saudi government wants both the outgoing Prime Minister Tony Blair, and his incoming successor Gordon Brown, to be associated with the announcement. That might make it next week, when the handover is due.
Eurofighter has already ordered long-lead items for the Saudi purchase. Three weeks ago, BAE Systems ran an advertisement in the royal air force newspaper for a three-man advisory team to work in the royal saudi air force (RSAF) headquarters on the Typhoon project. The ad referred to “innovative maintenance, logistics, weapons systems and data support concepts” that would be introduced. AIN understands that the ad was not cleared with BAE’s corporate office before being released for publication.
AIN has also been told that as part of the deal, BAE Systems will be required to buy a large shareholding in the Al Salam aircraft company, which already performs overhaul of the RSAF’s aircraft, including Boeing F-15s and the Tornado combat jets that BAE sold to the kingdom through the UK government under the Al Yamamah I and II contracts. Because Boeing last year bought a majority stake in Al Salam, BAE will build a new, completely separate facility for the Typhoon contract.
The Saudi order for Eurocopter helicopters is expected to comprise 64 NH90s for transport; 20 AS 532A2 Cougars for combat search-and-rescue (CSAR); 32 AS 555 Fennecs; 12 Tigers for attack; and four AS 565 Panthers for naval CSAR. The package may also include two Airbus A330 Multi-Role Tanker Transports (MRTTs).