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Saudi Arabia: Huge Arms Buying from France

Par, le 25 Juillet 2006

Saudi Arabia will buy 142 helicopters from France, including 64 NH-90 helicopters such as the one shown here, as well as tanker aircraft and other weapons in the largest arms export deal ever signed by France
Saudi Arabia will buy 142 helicopters from France, including 64 NH-90 helicopters such as the one shown here, as well as tanker aircraft and other weapons in the largest arms export deal ever signed by France
PARIS --- The Saudi government last week agreed to purchase a total of 142 helicopters from France, in a deal that will modernize its militaryhelicopter fleet at a single stroke and that, together with additionalcontracts to follow, firmly establishes France as the kingdom's mainweapons supplier. 
The helicopter contract, due to be signed with France's Sofresa armsexport agency, will cover 64 NH-90 battlefield helicopters; 20Eurocopter Cougar utility helicopters in Combat Search and Rescueversion; 42 Eurocopter Fennec light helicopters; four Panther navalSearch and Rescue helicopters; and an initial batch of 12 Tiger attackhelicopters. The NH-90s are made by NH Industries, a joint company inwhich France's Eurocopter has a 62.5% share, while all other types areproduced by Eurocopter. 

The contract also includes the provision of weapons, spare parts,training services and support equipment, as well as the construction ofseveral helicopter bases, boosting its total value to well over 7billion euros, sources say. It is the largest single arms export dealever signed by France. 
The NH-90 order includes 10 naval NFH-90s for the Saudi navy; 42 TTH-90battlefield helicopters for the Saudi Army and 12 more for the SaudiArabian National Guard, while the Fennec order comprises 30 helicoptersfor the Saudi air force and 12 for the national guard. 
A separate contract will cover an unspecified number of Airbus A330aerial tankers, similar to the KC-30 that EADS, the corporate parent ofboth Airbus and Eurocopter, has offered to the US Air Force.  
The new Saudi arms purchases from France are the result of an expandeddefense alliance set out in two political framework agreements signedhere late on July 21 by the Saudi Crown Prince and Defense Minister,Sultan Ben Abdelaziz Al Saoud. The agreements cover closer defensecooperation between the two countries as well as the supply of a widerange of military hardware. "These agreements, signed at the highestlevel of the two states, define the scope of our cooperation in thefield of military equipment," French presidential spokesman JérômeBonnafont told reporters July 21 adding that "new cooperation projectsfor military equipment will be implemented." 
In addition to the helicopters and tankers, contracts for which shouldbe signed in the coming weeks, Saudi Arabia also plans to purchaseLeclerc main battle tanks, French-Italian FREMM frigates and submarinesin 2007 and 2008, while the possible purchase of Dassault AviationRafale combat aircraft is still being discussed. 
The French orders come as Saudi Arabia last week unexpectedly embarkedon a huge weapon buying spree to substantially upgrade its armedforces.  
The first contract, announced July 21, covers the supply of 76 Caesartruck-mounted 155mm artillery pieces manufactured by France'sstate-owned GIAT Industries, for a value estimated at several hundredmillion euros. The manufacturer, for whom this is both the largestCaesar contract to date and the largest export contract of the pastdecade, will confirm neither the customer nor the value. 
The previous day, the Pentagon formally notified Congress of itsintention to sell 724 Light Armored Vehicles made by General DynamicsLand Systems, London, Ontario and related equipment (worth $5.8billion) for the Saudi Arabian National Guard. A separate contract wasalso notified covering the sale of 24 Sikorsky UH-60L Black Hawk armedutility helicopters, worth $350 million, to the Royal Saudi LandForces. These two contracts will be automatically approved unlessCongress opposes them within 30 days. 
According to French spokesman Bonnafont, the additional contracts "willbe finalized later, depending on the progress of bilateraldiscussions." He confirmed that these talks will center on theacquisition by Saudi Arabia of Dassault Aviation Rafale combat aircraftand of Leclerc main battle tanks, made by GIAT Industries. The latterare intended to replace the obsolete AMX-30 tanks operated by the Saudiarmy's so-called "French brigade," and which were originally procuredin the 1970s. 
A possible Rafale sale to Saudi Arabia has been the subject of muchspeculation in recent years, but had appeared to fade after SaudiArabia on December 21, 2005 signed a Memorandum of Understanding withthe British government which called for "Typhoon aircraft [to] replaceTornado Air Defence Variant aircraft and others currently in servicewith the Royal Saudi Air Force." 
At the time, British media reported that the related contract,initially covering 24 Typhoons with at least 48 more to follow, wouldbe signed by June, but none has so far been announced. 
The French spokesman's confirmation that a Rafale sale is beingnegotiated is a major advance for the French fighter, which formallyentered French air force service in late June but which is stilllooking for its first export customer. It is not clear, however,whether Rafale would be procured instead of, or in addition to, theTyphoon. 
No indication has been given of the number of Rafales that Saudi Arabiawould buy, but sources say an initial purchase would likely cover 48aircraft. If confirmed, this would set the deal's value at around 6billion euros, including weapons, spares and support equipment. 
Saudi Arabia also has a relatively urgent requirement to replace herolder coastal defense vessels (four Badr-class corvettes and nine AlSiddiq-class patrol boats) with much larger missile corvettesdisplacing around 2,000 tonnes. France's DCN has offered its Gowinddesign for this requirement. 
A second naval requirement is for four to six French-Italian FREMMnew-generation multi-purpose frigates to replace the olderFrench-supplied Medina-class (Sawari I project) frigates. Thesefrigates alone are valued at 3 billion euros. In the longer term, theRoyal Saudi Navy would like to introduce a submarine flotillacomprising about six conventionally-powered attack submarines, forwhich DCN is offering its Marlin design, derived from the Scorpenesubmarine it developed jointly with Spain's Navantia shipyards group.No value has been quoted for this project. 
French companies, along with contractors from China, Russia, the UK andthe US, will compete for Saudi Arabia's Miksa program, an ambitiousborder control network comprising up to 225 radar stations to monitorthe kingdom's ground borders, coasts and airspace. While this wasnegotiated directly with France's Thales Group for several years, SaudiArabia earlier this year decided to launch a competition; responses toits Request for Information are due in late August, to be followed by aRequest for Proposals with a deadline of late December. The project'svalue is estimated at 7 billion euros.