Saudi Arabia Eyes More Airbus Military Planes to Boost Air Force

Saudi Arabia is in talks with Airbus SE to buy more A330 tanker military planes and possibly the A400M military transport aircraft, as the kingdom seeks to enhance its air force capabilities amid regional tensions. The deal could be worth billions of dollars and boost the European aerospace giant’s presence in the Middle East.

Airbus Military Planes
Airbus Military Planes

Saudi Arabia Wants More A330 Tankers for Air-to-Air Refueling

Saudi Arabia already owns six Airbus A330 Multi Role Tanker Transport (MRTT) aircraft, which can be used for air-to-air refueling or be configured to carry troops, cargo and be used for medical evacuation. The kingdom is interested in buying more of these versatile planes, according to Jean-Brice Dumond, head of Air Power at Airbus.

“We are in discussions with Saudi Arabia for more A330 MRTTs,” Dumond said in an interview on the sidelines of the World Defense Show that is taking place in Riyadh. He did not disclose the number or the value of the potential order, but said that it could be finalized soon.

The A330 MRTT is based on the A330-200 commercial airliner, and can carry up to 111 tonnes of fuel and 43 tonnes of cargo. The plane can refuel various types of aircraft, such as fighters, bombers, transports and helicopters, using a boom or a hose-and-drogue system. The plane can also be equipped with defensive aids and electronic warfare systems.

The A330 MRTT is one of the most advanced and widely used tanker aircraft in the world, with 65 units in service and 15 more on order. The plane is operated by 13 countries, including the UK, France, Germany, Australia, Singapore, South Korea and the UAE.

Saudi Arabia Also Considers Buying A400M Transport Aircraft

Saudi Arabia is also considering purchasing the A400M military transport aircraft, which is designed to carry heavy and oversized loads over long distances and to operate from short and unpaved runways. The plane can also perform aerial delivery, air-to-air refueling, medical evacuation and humanitarian missions.

“We know there is an interest in the A400M, and we will address it with the Saudi Air Force and the Ministry of Defense,” Dumond said. He added that the plane could complement the existing fleet of C-130 Hercules transport aircraft that Saudi Arabia operates.

The A400M is a four-engine turboprop aircraft that can carry up to 37 tonnes of payload and fly up to 8,700 km. The plane can also carry up to 116 fully equipped troops or 66 stretchers. The plane has a rear ramp and a cargo handling system that can load and unload various types of vehicles, equipment and pallets.

The A400M is the result of a multinational cooperation between seven European countries: Germany, France, Spain, the UK, Turkey, Belgium and Luxembourg. The plane is manufactured by Airbus Defence and Space, a division of Airbus SE. The plane has been delivered to eight countries, including Germany, France, Spain, the UK, Turkey, Malaysia, Indonesia and Luxembourg, with a total order of 174 units.

Saudi Arabia Boosts Its Defense Spending and Modernization

The potential deal with Airbus is part of Saudi Arabia’s efforts to boost its defense spending and modernization, as the kingdom faces various security challenges and threats in the region. Saudi Arabia has been involved in a military intervention in Yemen since 2015, where it leads a coalition of Arab states against the Houthi rebels, who are backed by Iran. Saudi Arabia has also been targeted by several attacks from the Houthis, who have used drones, missiles and boats to strike Saudi oil facilities, airports and ships in the Red Sea.

Saudi Arabia has one of the largest defense budgets in the world, spending about $57 billion in 2023, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI). The kingdom is also one of the biggest importers of arms, accounting for 11% of the global total in 2019-2023, according to SIPRI. Saudi Arabia mainly buys its weapons from the US, the UK and France, but has also diversified its sources to include other countries, such as China, Russia and Turkey.

Saudi Arabia is also developing its own defense industry, as part of its Vision 2030 plan to diversify its economy and reduce its dependence on oil. The kingdom aims to localize 50% of its military spending by 2030, and has established the Saudi Arabian Military Industries (SAMI), a state-owned company that oversees the defense sector. SAMI has formed several joint ventures and partnerships with foreign defense companies, including Airbus SE, Boeing Co, Lockheed Martin Corp, Raytheon Co and Thales SA.

The deal with Airbus could also strengthen the strategic partnership between Saudi Arabia and the European Union, which have been cooperating on various issues, such as trade, energy, security and regional stability. Saudi Arabia is the EU’s largest trading partner in the Middle East, with a bilateral trade volume of €63 billion in 2023, according to the European Commission. The EU is also Saudi Arabia’s second largest source of arms, after the US, supplying 16% of its imports in 2019-2023, according to SIPRI.

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