Saudi Typhoon Deal Progresses, but Corruption Probes still Threaten

 - July 21, 2008, 9:27 AM
The first seven Eurofighter Typhoons for the Royal Saudi Air Force (RSAF) are now in final assembly at the Warton, UK facility of BAE Systems. The company will say only that the first flight is planned for “later this year.” The date of the first delivery to the Kingdom is known to be June 2009. The first 24 of the 72 Typhoons that are being supplied to Saudi Arabia are being assembled at Warton. The remaining 48 will be assembled at King Abdulaziz airbase, Dhahran, where construction of a new final assembly building began last March, and is due to be completed by August 2009. The new development at Dhahran is on a 300,000-sq-m site and includes hangars that can house up to 20 aircraft. Part of the development is already open and being used for the upgrading of the RSAF’s Tornado strike aircraft. The RSAF and BAE systems have yet to decide who will perform the Typhoon assembly work. Al Salam Aircraft, the aircraft overhaul and modification center at Riyadh has for some years done major overhauls on the RSAF’s aircraft, including the Tornado, Hawk and PC-9 aircraft supplied by BAE Systems under the al-Yamamah contract. In 2006, Boeing effectively took a majority stake in Al Salam Aircraft. Its managing director Mohammed Fatallah said recently that his company hoped to begin overhaul work on the Typhoons in late 2010, “but that’s still an RSAF/BAE decision.”A Boeing official told AIN that he still hoped that Typhoon work would be allocated to Al Salam Aircraft.

The Typhoon sale is now known to be worth £4.4 billion, and is dubbed the al-Salam project, despite having nothing to do with the Al Salam Aircraft company–as yet. Formally, though, the Typhoon deal forms the main part of the Saudi British Defence Cooperation Programme (SBDCP). This is a government-government pact funded through the Saudi Arabian defense budget that replaced the al-Yamamah oil-for-arms deal in December 2006. BAE Systems acts as prime contractor to the UK government in the SBDCP–as it did during al-Yamamah. The SBDCP could yet be affected by legal developments in the UK over the al-Yamamah corruption probe. The UK government halted an investigation into past dealings by BAE Systems and Saudi officials in December 2006, citing the national interest. Anti-arms campaigners mounted a legal challenge to that decision, won their case at the High Court, and argued it again at the House of Lords on July 8 after the government appealed to the highest court in the land. A verdict is due shortly. Also in the UK, the parliamentary committee on arms export controls recommended on July 3 that the government “improve the transparency of the Salam Project.” Meanwhile, the U.S. Department of Justice is continuing its investigation into whether corrupt dealings in the al-Yamamah contracts took place on American soil.