BAE opens the door to Saudi Arabia’s participation in the Tempest fighter aircraft program
The head of defense contractor BAE Systems has opened the door for Saudi Arabia to get involved in the UK’s flagship fighter jet programme.
Charles Woodburn, chief executive of BAE, said the kingdom could “offer a lot” and had a talented workforce that could push the project forward.
Woodburn spoke after it emerged that the Saudi government is pushing to become a full partner in the international global combat air program.
The project, currently a collaboration between the UK, Italy and Japan, aims to have a demonstration aircraft in the air by 2027.
Saudi Arabia’s involvement could unlock huge funding source for Tempest
Britain has already committed £2 billion to the programme, which aims to deliver the Tempest, Britain’s next-generation supersonic stealth fighter jet, by 2035. But questions have been raised over its viability in a recent official report.
Saudi Arabia’s involvement could unlock a huge source of funding for a project expected to cost tens of billions of pounds, as well as engineering expertise.
Woodburn, speaking at a recent defense industry event in London, emphasized that any decision on Saudi Arabia’s inclusion would be made at a government level.
But he stressed during the event at the Royal United Services Institute that the Gulf nation, where BAE employs 7,000 “very capable” people, had more to contribute than just cash.
“For any program, the kingdom can offer a lot in terms of talent base,” he said. Saudi Arabia is already a leading buyer of UK military aircraft, including Typhoons.
But the country’s direct participation in a flagship defense collaboration could prove controversial, given its dismal human rights record. It is also said to have raised hackles in Japan, with Tokyo reportedly opposing it on the grounds that it could delay the project.
The United Kingdom collaborated with Spain and Germany on the Typhoon program, but with that generation of aircraft due to be replaced, those countries are now pursuing their own project.
Woodburn said only the United States had the financial power to develop a fighter jet on its own and that for other countries it was a “team sport.”
“My goal at all times has been to bring together the strongest possible team around the table.”
He said the countries currently involved were making “very good progress.” But he added: “When it comes to future partnerships, I think the door is open.”
The project’s main contractors – Britain’s BAE, Japan’s MHI and Italy’s Leonardo – said last week they had agreed on the next steps to carry out the conceptual phase.
When asked about Saudi involvement, Richard Berthon, the defense minister responsible for the program, said that while there were talks to explore future options, “no decision had been made beyond that.”
An annual report issued last month by the Government’s Infrastructure and Projects Authority gave the project a “red” rating, indicating an assessment that successful execution “seems unattainable.” He cited a “shortage of resources.”