London: Saudi Arabia has taken delivery of two Eurofighter Typhoon combat jets, Britain’s Ministry of Defence (MoD) said Friday, the first of a massive order which fell into doubt over an arms scandal.
Saudi Assistant Defence and Aviation Minister Prince Khaled bin Sultan received the two fighter jets on Thursday in a ceremony at manufacturer BAE Systems’ Warton site in northwest England.
Saudi Crown Prince Sultan bin Abdul Aziz and Britain’s armed forces minister Bill Rammell also attended, the MoD said.
The two fighters were the first out of an order for an eventual 72 that has been valued at up to 20 billion pounds (32.9 billion dollars), including armaments and long-term servicing.
Saudi Arabia is the first country outside Europe to have the Typhoon, a multi-role aircraft produced by a BAE Systems-led consortium of European firms.
The deal was first announced in August 2006, but then fell into doubt due to a British investigation into massive corruption allegations in earlier arms deals between Saudi Arabia and BAE Systems that implicated senior officials of both countries.
The investigation into the so-called Yamamah deals was called off by the British government in December 2006 on grounds of “national security” and “public interest,” and the final contract for the Typhoon aircraft was signed in September 2007.
The purchase will help the Saudis upgrade their air force from its current fleet of BAE’s 1980s-vintage Tornado F3s and US-made Boeing F-15s.
Under the original deal, BAE is to deliver 24 Typhoons completely built to the Saudis, and another 48 are to be assembled inside Saudi Arabia as the country seeks to build up its own aeronautic industry capabilities.
“The Royal Saudi Air Force is getting a fantastic aircraft,” said Rammell.
“Typhoon is a world-class, multi-role aircraft and will provide the RSAF with the defence capability it needs to meet the defence challenges of today and for the foreseeable future.
“The industrial benefits of the project are also substantial for both nations and will help to sustain several thousand, skilled jobs in the UK and Saudi Arabia over the next 10 years.”
Prince Khaled, who also commands the RSAF, said the new aircraft were “not to threaten anyone but to protect and secure the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia over the coming decades,” Saudi state news agency SPA reported.
But Riyadh is known to want to maintain air superiority over rival Iran amid fears that Tehran is seeking to extend the range of its air force to full region-wide capability.
According to Lebanon-based defence news service Tactical Newswires, the Saudis will soon begin meetings with US officials to discuss buying F-16 fighters.