05:40 GMT, September 1, 2009 defpro.com | Saudi Arabia is close to buy Russian arms and military equipment worth some $2 billion (€1.4 billion), a Russian defence industry source was quoted by Interfax on Saturday. The news agency reported that the unnamed source said that “work is nearly completed on a set of contracts on the delivery of Russian arms and military technology to Saudi Arabia.”
The major weapon deal with Rosoboronexport State Corporation, Russia's state-owned arms export monopoly, may include up to 30 Mi-35 attack helicopters and up to 120 Mi-171B, the export version of the Mi-17 Hip multi-purpose helicopter, which is in service in some 80 countries. As defpro.com already reported earlier this month, Russia concluded talks with Saudi Arabia on the helicopter contract.
Russian tracked vehicles and tanks on Saudi Arabia’s shopping list
Beside the helicopters, the deal also compromises some 150 T-90S main battle tanks (MBTs) and around 250 BMP-3 infantry fighting vehicles (IFVs). Furthermore, several sets of Russian state-of-the-art S-400 Triumf air defence systems are part of the multi-billion contract.
The advanced S-400 Triumf (SA-21 Growler) allegedly has no equivalent in the West, and is said to have outflanked the US MIM-104 Patriot. The system is designed to intercept and destroy airborne targets at distances of up to 400 kilometers (250 miles), twice the range of the Patriot. Defence experts believe that the system may be able to encounter cruise missiles and ballistic missiles as well as most stealth aircraft. The Interfax source said that Saudi Arabia is interested in “several dozen” S-400 systems, each including at least eight launchers with 32 missiles and a mobile command post. Besides Saudi Arabia also Turkey, Egypt and Iran have shown strong interest in the Russian air defence system.
With this deal, the Russian Federation’s T-90 – including India’s licenced T-90S production programme – should be the most successful tank in terms of new selling numbers showing once again that the days of US and European domination over new production are long gone in the international market for main battle tanks.
The BMP-3, nicknamed “Troyka” and one of the most heavily armed infantry fighting vehicles in service, is already an old model, having been first built in 1987. However, it found its way back in the market as several nations are looking again at heavier armour and protection as well as more effective state-of-the-art weapon systems. A dozen countries have already integrated this vehicle into their armed forces, among them Saudi Arabia’s neighbours Kuwait as well as the United Arab Emirates. Greece is also preparing a possible purchase of 420 of these tracked fighting vehicles.
According to Interfax, Riyadh may sign contracts for the tanks and helicopters as early as this year. In a number of the contracts which are part of this major deal, both sides have already agreed on the key technical and financial details while other contracts are still being negotiated, according to the quoted source.
Saudi Arabia taking the lead in Middle East defence spending
Riyadh traditionally bought exclusively Western, mainly US-made, military equipment. However, in 2008 Saudi Arabia and Russia signed a “framework agreement for military cooperation” that opened the way for Saudi Arabia to buy Russian arms. In July 2008, as Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal visited Moscow, a Russian newspaper reported that several deals, including the procurement of military equipment, has been discussed with a total worth of some $4 billion. Finally, this year Saudi King Abdullah received a delegation that included a top Kremlin advisor and an official from Rosoboronexport.
The new orientation of Riyadh towards a new principal weapons supplier may result from difficulties which the Arab countries experienced in recent attempts to buy military equipment from the West since 11 September 2001.
Saudi Arabia's defence budget currently exceeds $33 billion and is expected to reach $44 billion in 2010. In a recently published report Frost & Sullivan predicts that defence expenditures in the Middle East will cross the $100 billion mark in the coming five years. The fear that Iran’s nuclear programme may destabilise the entire region is suggested as one of the key reasons for the recent push on the Arabian Peninsula.
The bulk of spending in the region is to come from Saudi Arabia, Iraq, the United Arab Emirates and Israel. In terms of spending, Saudi Arabia is taking the lead in the region with Israel in second place, the latter being expected to disburse some $13 billion by the end of 2009, according to the report.