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Saudi Arabia Launches Huge Arms Buying Spree; France to Net Most Orders
PARIS --- The Saudi government last week agreed to purchase a total of 142 helicopters from France, in a deal that will modernize its military helicopter fleet at a single stroke and that, together with additional contracts to follow, firmly establishes France as the kingdom’s main weapons supplier.
The helicopter contract, due to be signed with France’s Sofresa arms export agency, will cover 64 NH-90 battlefield helicopters; 20 Eurocopter Cougar utility helicopters in Combat Search and Rescue version; 42 Eurocopter Fennec light helicopters; four Panther naval Search and Rescue helicopters; and an initial batch of 12 Tiger attack helicopters.The contract also includes the provision of weapons, spare parts, training services and support equipment, as well as the construction of several helicopter bases, boosting its total value to well over 7 billion euros, sources say. It is the largest single arms export deal ever signed by France.
A separate contract will cover an unspecified number of Airbus A330 aerial tankers. Saudi Arabia also plans to purchase Leclerc main battle tanks, French-Italian FREMM frigates and submarines in 2007 and 2008. Saudi Arabia also has a relatively urgent requirement to replace her older coastal defense vessels. France’s DCN has offered its Gowind design for this requirement.
A second requirement is for four to six French-Italian FREMM new-generation multi-purpose frigates to replace the older French-supplied Medina-class (Sawari I project) frigates. These frigates alone are valued at 3 billion euros. The French orders come as Saudi Arabia last week unexpectedly embarked on a huge weapon buying spree to substantially upgrade its armed forces
A possible Rafale sale to Saudi Arabia has been the subject of much speculation in recent years, but had appeared to fade after Saudi Arabia on December 21, 2005 signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the British government.
The French spokesman’s confirmation that a Rafale sale is being negotiated is a major advance for the French fighter, which formally entered French air force service in late June but which is still looking for its first export customer. It is not clear, however, whether Rafale would be procured instead of, or in addition to, the Typhoon.
No indication has been given of the number of Rafales that Saudi Arabia would buy, but sources say an initial purchase would likely cover 48 aircraft. If confirmed, this would set the deal’s value at around 6 billion euros, including weapons, spares and support equipment.