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Pillar Hawk

Posted 31 March 2020 · Add Comment

Locally-assembled BAE Hawks have become the first new Saudi-built fast jet aircraft to fly in home skies, marking a significant step forward for the kingdomís aerospace industry. Jon Lake reports.

Under its ambitious ‘vision 2030’ programme, Saudi Arabia plans to grow and diversify its economy, increasing employment, broadening the economic base and reducing the country’s present heavy reliance on oil.
Creating a sustainable defence industry is a key pillar of the ‘thriving economy’ which the strategy aims to create.
Saudi Arabia is aiming to manufacture half of its military needs within the kingdom and
aims to transform itself into a leading industrial power. It hopes that its major corporations will “expand across borders and take their rightful place in global markets”.
When Saudi Arabian Military Industries (SAMI) was launched in 2017, the aim was to provide a foundation for what was planned to become one of the world’s top 25 defence companies. By 2030, SAMI is expected to contribute around SR14 billion ($3.73bn) to Saudi Arabia’s gross domestic product (GDP) and to create more than 40,000 highly skilled jobs.
With this kind of ambition, the kingdom wants to ‘fast-track’ the development of its defence and aerospace industries and to rapidly move beyond the well-developed maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) network for civil and military aviation that has already been established, and beyond the manufacturing of minor parts, components and sub-systems.
The licence manufacture, or final assembly, of aircraft is often emblematic of a maturing indigenous defence/aerospace industry, and Saudi Arabia has had ambitions to at least assemble military aircraft in kingdom for many years.
When it ordered 72 Eurofighter Typhoons in 2007, the programme was seen as a means of stimulating the development and growth of an indigenous Saudi aerospace and defence industry by ensuring a high level of local industrial participation. For speed, the first 24 Typhoons ordered for the Royal Saudi Air Force were diverted from a UK RAF order, and were, therefore, built at BAE Systems’ Warton final assembly line.
The remaining 48 aircraft ordered were to be completed on a new Typhoon assembly line in Saudi Arabia, operated by the Riyadh-based Alsalam Aircraft Company.
Initially, it was expected that this Saudi Typhoon assembly line would be built at Taif as part of a programme to provide high-value, high-technology jobs to under-developed areas of the kingdom.
These plans were changed because Alsalam was formed as a joint venture between Saudi Arabian Airways, the Saudi Advanced Industries Company and BAE’s great rival, Boeing, which has a majority stake in the company. Accordingly, the decision was taken to establish a new BAE-operated final assembly facility (known as the ‘Typhoon Technical Zone’) within a new BAE Systems-built, RSAF-owned maintenance facility at King Abdulaziz Air Base, Dhahran.
Local assembly of Saudi Typhoons was scheduled to begin in the ‘second quarter’ of 2010, with deliveries beginning in 2011. But, after reports of “repeated hold-ups by Saudi Arabia regarding the choice of a build site” and despite an August 2010 announcement by BAE Systems that a military aircraft assembling plant would shortly be established in the kingdom, the decision was finally taken to abandon plans for local assembly.
Instead, the Saudis were persuaded that local participation in through-life support for the Typhoon would be a more realistic ambition, and one that would confer greater benefits than those that might accrue from a narrow focus on final assembly. Accordingly, a maintenance and upgrade facility replaced the planned final assembly line, and arrangements were made for a partnered support approach involving both BAE Systems and Saudi industry.
The Royal Saudi Air Force (RSAF) is a long-standing Hawk operator, having taken delivery of 30 Hawk Mk 65s from August 1987 to October 1988 and 20 Hawk Mk 65As from March to December 1997.
The RSAF ordered 22 Hawk Mk 165 advanced jet trainer (AJT) aircraft in May 2012 as part of the Saudi British defence cooperation programme, along with 55 Pilatus PC-21 basic trainer aircraft. These were delivered from BAE Systems’ factory at Warton between 2016-2018.
The RSAF ordered 22 more Hawk Mk 165s in February 2015, and specified that final assembly of these aircraft would be carried out in the kingdom, using a new ‘Hawk aircraft final assembly line’ established as part of the Saudi ‘vision 2030’ programme.
These are believed to represent the first manned aircraft to be assembled in the kingdom. Some 25 Saudi companies support the Hawk supply and logistics chain, and the aircraft reportedly incorporates some local content.
First deliveries from the new Saudi Hawk production line were expected to begin in the third quarter of 2018, though, in the event, the first of the 22 domestically manufactured Hawk Mk 165s was ceremonially rolled out on April 1 2019 at King Abdulaziz Air Base at Dhahran. The roll-out was attended by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, deputy prime minister and minister of defence, and the driving force behind the ‘vision 2030’ programme.
The crown prince was briefed on the programme and the extensive technology transfer, and met many of the Saudi assembly line workers, before formally unveiling the aircraft and signing the forward fuselage.
Subsequently, he went to the control tower, where he gave permission for the new aircraft to take off.
Straying slightly from strict R/T procedure, the crown prince said: “In the name of Allah and His blessings, Soar high over the most beloved land.”
On March 9 2018, a memorandum of intent for an additional 48 Typhoons was signed during the crown prince’s visit to the United Kingdom, and most of these are expected to be assembled locally.
With the assembly and licence manufacture of Sikorsky S-70s, Antonov/Taqnia An-132Ds and the conversion of Boeing F-15S strike fighters to F-15SR standard, Saudi Arabia’s aerospace industry is rapidly building up the experience and expertise necessary to move on to its next goal – to produce an indigenously developed aircraft in the mid-2030s.

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