Saudi Arabia to Enhance Air Capabilities with New Airbus Deal

In a strategic move, Saudi Arabia signs a major deal with Airbus for four A330 MRTT aircraft, aiming to strengthen its Royal Saudi Air Force's operational capabilities.

Published July 11, 2024 - 00:07am

4 minutes read
Saudi Arabia
Spain
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Saudi Arabia is set to bolster its air capabilities with four additional Airbus A330 Multi Role Tanker Transport (MRTT) aircraft, aimed at enhancing the Royal Saudi Air Force's (RSAF) critical refueling and transport operations. This new acquisition underscores the Kingdom's commitment to expanding its aviation sector and strengthening its defense capabilities, in line with the Vision 2030 initiative.

The initial MRTT aircraft from the order will undergo modification starting in early 2026, with all four expected to be operational by 2027. This strategic move aligns with Saudi Arabia's goal of localizing 50 percent of its defense spending domestically by 2030. This ambition is supported by substantial investments under the Vision 2030 plan, aimed at diversifying the economy away from fossil fuels and boosting the private sector.

This is the third contract signed by Saudi Arabia for the A330 MRTT, making the Royal Saudi Air Force one of the largest MRTT operators globally. Jean-Brice Dumont, the head of air power at Airbus Defense and Space, highlighted the significance of this deal, stating that the A330 MRTT represents a new generation of transport and refueling aircraft, commanding approximately 90 percent of the market outside the United States with 82 orders worldwide.

The contract not only includes the aircraft themselves but also a comprehensive logistics support package covering spare parts, training services, and service support. The goal is to ensure that the RSAF can effectively manage and maintain these sophisticated aircraft, enhancing their operational readiness and capability.

Furthermore, the deal includes a technology transfer component. Walid Abukhaled, CEO of SAMI, emphasized this aspect, noting that the agreement with Airbus to transfer technology and knowledge of the Airbus A330 MRTT to the Kingdom is crucial for improving Saudi defense industries. This aligns with the broader goal of achieving the Vision 2030 objectives to localize defense spending and foster domestic expertise in this sector.

Assistant Minister of Defense for Executive Affairs Dr. Khaled Al-Bayari confirmed that the contract seeks to bolster the RSAF's capabilities in air refueling, long-distance transportation, and logistical operations. It also aims to strengthen the Ministry of Defense's capacity in troop and equipment transport, furthering Saudi Arabia's defense capabilities.

The initiative also includes the development of Saudi Arabia's aviation industry, focusing on localizing expertise in aircraft engineering, development, repair, and enhancing safety, quality, and supply chains within the Kingdom. This is part of a broader effort by SAMI and Airbus to localize the industry of multi-mission refueling aircraft and their components according to the latest international standards.

Earlier this year, Airbus entered into an industrial participation agreement with the General Authority for Military Industries (GAMI). This agreement supports Vision 2030's goal of diversifying the economy through regional industrial development. The agreement also involves technology transfer and knowledge sharing of the RSAF A330 MRTT to local firms. SAAMS, a joint venture of Saudi Arabian Military Industries and Airbus, will lead local industrialization efforts.

This initiative underscores the importance of international collaboration in achieving Saudi Arabia's ambitious defense and industrial goals. Airbus and Saudi Arabia's General Authority for Military Industries (GAMI) agreed to localize the manufacturing of refueling aircraft and components. By 2030, Saudi Arabia aims to domestically secure over 50 percent of its military equipment and services spending.

In summary, this latest acquisition and technology transfer deal between Saudi Arabia and Airbus represents a significant milestone in the Kingdom's ongoing efforts to enhance its air capabilities and localize its defense sector. With this strategic move, Saudi Arabia is well-positioned to meet its Vision 2030 goals, strengthen its defense capabilities, and boost its aviation sector's growth and development.

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