Royal Saudi fighter jet, picture of pilot under canopy. Decals on jet say God Bless You and Royal Sau in Arabic and English

UK arms to Saudi Arabia

The UK has continued to support air strikes by Saudi Arabia and its coalition partners in Yemen, in spite of overwhelming evidence of repeated breaches of international humanitarian law by the coalition.

Last updated: 20/07/2020

UK-made weapons are being¬†used in Saudi Arabia‚Äôs devastating attacks on Yemen, which have killed thousands of civilians¬†and¬†created the world’s largest humanitarian catastrophe.

The UK is one of Saudi Arabia’s leading arms suppliers, along with the US. It is also a major supplier of arms to the United Arab Emirates, another country in the coalition that is bombing Yemen.

The UK has continued to support air strikes by Saudi Arabia and its coalition partners, providing both arms and ongoing maintenance and support, in spite of overwhelming evidence of repeated breaches of international humanitarian law by the coalition.

The UK-made equipment used in the war includes Typhoon and Tornado aircraft, Paveway bombs and Brimstone and Stormshadow missiles.

The published value of UK arms licensed for export to the Saudi-led coalition since the bombing began in March 2015 is £6.3 billion; however, CAAT estimates that the real value is at least £16 billion.

The licence figures also do not include the value of ongoing maintenance, training, and technical support that BAE Systems provides to the Royal Saudi Air Force in Saudi Arabia. This support is absolutely essential to Saudi Arabia’s ability to wage its war in Yemen.

We have a significant infrastructure supporting the Saudi air force generally and if we are requested to provide them with enhanced support ‚Äď spare parts, maintenance, technical advice, resupply ‚Äď we will seek to do so.¬†We’ll support the Saudis in every practical way short of engaging in combat.

–¬† Former Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond, at the start of the conflict in March 2015

Key statistics

£5.4 billion

Published value of UK arms licensed to the Saudi-led coalition since the bombing began in March 2015.

Data

£16 billion

Estimated total value of sales to the Coalition since the beginning of the war

Data

Arms export licences

  • The published value of UK arms export licences to¬† Saudi Arabia since the bombing began in March 2015¬† is ¬£5.4 billion.
  • The published value of UK arms export licences to the Saudi-led coalition during this period is ¬£6.3 billion.
  • However, CAAT estimates that the real value of sales to the Coalition since the beginning of the war is at least ¬£16 billion.

The licences include:

  • ¬£3 billion¬†of equipment in the ML10 category, covering aircraft, helicopters, drones, and related equipment and components,
  • and¬†¬£2.5 billion¬†in the ML4 category, covering bombs, missiles, grenades, and countermeasures, and related equipment and components.

Open licences

The published values above cover only Single Individual Export Licences (SIELs), and only tell part of the story. They do not include arms licensed under various ‘open’ licences, such as Open Individual Export Licences (OIELs).

These allow for multiple deliveries, in unlimited quantities, for the period of validity of the licence, usually 3 or 5 years. No financial data is attached to these licences. Such licences included a 5-year OIEL issued in August 2014 for bombs and missiles to Saudi Arabia, of exactly the types used in the Yemen war.

BAE: £12.5 billion in Saudi revenues

The licence figures also do not include the value of ongoing maintenance, repair, overhaul, and technical and logistic support services that BAE Systems provides to the Royal Saudi Air Force in Saudi Arabia, supporting the BAE-supplied Tornado and Typhoon aircraft. In total, according to BAE’s¬†annual reports, the company received¬†¬£12.5 billion¬†in revenues from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia Ministry of Defence and Aviation between 2015-2018.

This figure dwarfs the figure for SIEL licences, and does not include most of the bombs and missiles etc. sold to the coalition, most of which come from  MBDA and Raytheon Systems UK, or sales to the other coalition members.

Thus, while the full scale of UK arms sales to Saudi Arabia cannot be known, due to the lack of transparency in the data provided by the UK government, we can be confident that the value of sales to the Coalition since the beginning of the war total at least £16 billion.

Vital support services

BAE Systems has 6,300 employees in Saudi Arabia supporting the Saudi Air Force, as part of the British-Saudi Defence Cooperation Programme of 2006. This is the successor of the Al Yamamah deal under which Tornado aircraft were sold to Saudi, and the Al Salam deal of 2007, which involved the sale of Eurofighter Typhoons, with the associated support package.

Both agreements are government-to-government agreements between the UK and Saudi Arabia, for which BAE is the prime contractor. In addition, there are around 100 serving UK military personnel and a similar number of UK government civilian officials providing advice and support to the Saudi military under the agreements.

According to a 2018¬†report¬†by Mike Lewis and Katherine Templar, the services provided by BAE Systems employees include: “Technical, engineering and armouring functions within RSAF squadrons; munitions management; supply chain management; programme management; air-crew training; equipment repair and maintenance; commercial roles; and equipment/technical advice to the Saudi MOD.”

This work includes deep maintenance on the Tornado and Typhoon aircraft involved in the war in Yemen, to enable them to remain operationally ready. It also appears to include preparing the armaments for planes for operational missions, or at least acting in a supporting capacity for Saudi personnel undertaking these tasks.

This maintenance, training, and technical support, is absolutely essential to Saudi Arabia’s ability to wage its war in Yemen.¬†A former BAE Systems employee, who had recently worked in Saudi Arabia, told Channel 4’s¬†Dispatches, in a programme which aired in April 2019, “With the amount of aircraft they’ve got and the operational demands, if we weren’t there in 7 to 14 days there wouldn’t be a jet in the sky.”

Former Saudi Air Force officer Yahya Assiri confirmed in the same programme, “Without the Typhoon they will stop the war‚Ķ The Saudis they can’t keep the Typhoon in the air without the British.”

If either Washington or London halts the flow of logistics, the Royal Saudi Air Force will be grounded.

 Bruce Riedel, Brookings Institute, 2018.

The US military and arms companies provide similar support for the other, US-supplied half of the Saudi Air Force. Bruce Riedel, Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institute,¬†wrote¬†in 2018, “The Royal Saudi Air Force (RSAF) is entirely dependent on American and British support for its air fleet of F15 fighter jets, Apache helicopters, and Tornado aircraft. If either Washington or London halts the flow of logistics, the RSAF will be grounded.”

Further research

Royal Saudi fighter jet, picture of pilot under canopy. Decals on jet say God Bless You and Royal Sau in Arabic and English

Photo by Clément Alloing, CC BY-NC-ND

UK personnel in Saudi Arabia

Thousands of UK and non-UK employees of UK companies work in Saudi Arabia to support the operation of UK-supplied military equipment

BAE Systems sign on a building

Britain's Hidden War

Channel 4 Dispatches investigates the extent to which the war in Yemen is made in Britain

Report cover "A shameful relationship: UK complicity in Saudi state violence. Image: 2 fighter aircraft in flight. Author: David Wearing. Date; April 2016

A shameful relationship

This report explains the nature of UK arms sales to, and military cooperation with, Saudi Arabia.

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