Sun, Aug 20, 2006 - Page 11 News List

UK-led consortium hails fighter deal with Saudi Arabia

AFP , LONDON

Britain on Friday announced it had agreed a multibillion-dollar deal to supply 72 Eurofighter Typhoon aircraft to Saudi Arabia, handing a boost to the European aerospace sector.

The choice of Eurofighter marks a victory for the British-led consortium that builds the aircraft, which had faced competition for the order from the US-based Joint Strike Fighter and the French-made Rafale jet.

The Eurofighter Typhoon, largely manufactured by Britain's BAE Systems in partnership with Italy, Germany and Spain, will replace the Tornado warplanes supplied to Saudi Arabia in another massive but controversial deal two decades ago.

No financial details about the agreement have been released -- but the Financial Times reported on Friday that the deal was worth around ?10 billion (US$18.8 billion).

The report added that value of the order could more than double over the next 25 years if BAE Systems maintains and upgrades the planes for Saudi Arabia.

The deal to supply the aircraft to Saudi Arabia, the world's top crude oil exporter, will be finalized before the end of the year, a source close to the Eurofighter consortium said.

BAE Systems said that the Saudi and British governments "agreed [on] the required commercial principles which will effectively initiate the purchase of Typhoon aircraft."

A statement from the Saudi ministry of defense carried by the official SPA news agency said that Riyadh had ordered 72 jets.

Britain's ministry of defense confirmed that "the required commercial principles have now been agreed which has initiated the purchase of Typhoon aircraft."

The two governments had signed a memorandum of understanding in December last year aimed at establishing a closer partnership in modernizing the Saudi armed forces and developing close service-to-service contacts, especially through joint training and exercises.

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