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Saudi In-Country Assembly Of Typhoon Delays
Jan 27, 2010
By Douglas Barrie (London)
Saudi Arabia faces deferring in-country Eurofighter Typhoon final assembly or having to delay in-service targets for the fighter.
The Saudi regime, the British government and BAE Systems are discussing alternatives to the original plan as a result of the effect of repeated hold-ups by Saudi Arabia regarding the choice of a build site. These options include reassigning back to the U.K. some of the aircraft originally slated for final assembly in Saudi Arabia.
The two countries concluded a deal for 72 Typhoons in September 2007. The intent was for the first 24 aircraft to be built at BAE Systems’ Warton site in England, with the remainder to undergo final assembly in the kingdom.
A preferred location is understood to have been decided upon, but the extent of the interruption and the work required to prepare the facility means the final assembly schedule almost certainly cannot be met. Under the original plan, the first Typhoons were expected to roll off the Saudi line in 2011.
“Discussions continue between the Saudi and U.K. governments on the arrangements for the assembly of Typhoon aircraft in the kingdom. The details are presently confidential,” says a British Defense Ministry official.
“Location of aircraft assembly is part of the ongoing discussions . . . and the timescale for completion of these discussions is unknown [so] it would be unwise to speculate” he adds, noting that there has been “no change to the original understanding that assembly of the final 48 Typhoons will take place in Saudi Arabia.”
Riyadh’s desire for a Typhoon final assembly facility is part of a wider effort to broaden its national aerospace industry, an aspiration that is reflected in Project Salam, as the U.K.-Saudi Arabian initiative is known.
Selection of an assembly site was notionally due to be concluded by mid-to-late 2008 or, at best, no later than early 2009, allowing time for the facility to be appropriately developed.
Delivery of the first 24 aircraft—drawn from aircraft originally being built as part of the Royal Air Force’s Tranche 2 production batch—is underway. The first two aircraft were flown to Saudi Arabia in mid-2009, and a total of eight were expected to have now been handed over by the end of this year. As part of the initial agreement, Royal Saudi Air Force (RSAF) aircrew and engineers are being trained for the Typhoon by the RAF.
Options under consideration include U.K. production of either an additional 12 or 24 Typhoons at the Warton site, out of the total of 48 earmarked originally for Saudi industry. Alternatively, the delivery of those 48 aircraft could be rescheduled, delaying the conversion of some squadrons to the type. The RSAF is keen to avoid slips to the program.
BAE Systems is the industry lead on the government-to-government program. The company declines to comment on any issues related to final assembly.
Along with the possibility of switching some of the aircraft intended for final assembly in Saudi Arabia—most likely in Dhahran—back to the U.K., either a kit-build or finishing-only option for early in-country aircraft may be considered.
Its been hinted that throughout last year London was suggesting to Riyadh that the industrial benefits of through-life support outweigh a sole focus on final assembly.
When in-country production of Typhoon in Saudi Arabia was first mentioned in 2006, a European industry executive cautioned that the significance of the challenge should not be underestimated.
A follow-on batch of Typhoons to the present 72 on order also remains in the cards (though the exact number is yet to be determined), as does a notional delivery schedule.
The Typhoon, along with other types, will replace the RSAF’s Tornado air defense aircraft. As well as introducing the Typhoon into service, the RSAF is also looking to bolster its Boeing F-15 fleet with an additional acquisition to replace early model F-15s.
While details of the complete weapons package intended for the Typhoon in Saudi service have not been made public, it is known that the Diehl BGT IRIS-T imaging infrared-guided dogfight missile is being acquired.
The RSAF has mirrored what the RAF operates on its combat aircraft on both the strike and air defense variants of the Tornado. The MBDA Asraam was offered, but Riyadh, in the case of the Typhoon, decided to purchase a weapon not in the RAF’s inventory. In terms of a radar-guided missile, the MBDA Meteor is also a candidate, though the aircraft will likely initially be fielded with the Raytheon AIM-120 Amraam. Meteor development is due to be completed in 2012.