Revival of UK-Saudi Defense Pact Boosts Sales

 - May 25, 2012, 11:50 AM
The Royal Saudi Air Force is upgrading to BAE Hawk Advanced Jet Trainers and Pilatus PC-21 turboprops, from earlier models from the same manufacturers. (Photos: BAE Systems and Pilatus Aircraft)

A new contract worth $2.5 billion has been signed under the Saudi-British Defence Co-operation Program (SBDCP) to upgrade the pilot training syllabus of the Royal Saudi Air Force (RSAF). Prime contractor BAE Systems will supply 22 Hawk AJTs (advanced jet trainers), along with 55 Pilatus PC-21 turboprops, and a variety of ground-based training devices. The RSAF will also buy 25 basic trainers, but these have not yet been chosen and may not form part of the BAE-supplied package, a company spokesman told AIN.

Under previous SBDCP contracts, BAE Systems provided 50 Hawk Mk 65s and 50 PC-9s to the RSAF, but some of these aircraft are now more than 20 years old. Their replacements have glass cockpits and, in the Hawk AJT, “the very latest in advanced simulation for radar, weapons and defensive aids training,” according to BAE Systems group managing director international Guy Griffiths.

The deal is a welcome boost for the Hawk AJT, which has no order backlog and awaits postponed jet trainer evaluations in Poland, the U.S. and elsewhere. The new RSAF Hawks will be built at Samlesbury with final assembly at Warton, following last year’s closure of the production line at BAE’s Brough facility in Yorkshire. But the new contract will preserve more than 250 jobs at Brough in Hawk engineering and structural testing. Deliveries will start in 2016.

For Pilatus, the contract revives a production line that had almost completed previous PC-21 orders from Singapore, Switzerland and the UAE. AIN estimates its value to the Swiss company to be at least $550 million. Deliveries will start in 2014.

The UK Ministry of Defence (MoD), which monitors contractors’ performance in the SBDCP, said the training deal reflects Saudi confidence in the UK’s ability to meet the Kingdom’s defense requirements. Although a Tornado upgrade has proceeded smoothly, the 2007 Al Salam deal to supply 72 Eurofighter Typhoons ran into problems in 2009-10 over final assembly and the RSAF desire for upgrades.

Two months ago, BAE said the RSAF had successfully introduced the first 24 Typhoons, and reported progress in renegotiations. This included an agreement to scrap plans for final assembly in the Kingdom of the remaining 48 aircraft. They will all now be assembled at Warton, to the current Tranche 2 standard as originally planned. But the last 24 “will have provisioning for subsequent insertion of Tranche 3 capability,” according to BAE. The upgrade could be done in the maintenance and upgrade facility that BAE has now agreed to build in the Kingdom. However, pricing of these changes to the 2007 agreement had not yet been agreed, according to BAE.