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Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Saudis are top arms buyer in developing world

WASHINGTON — Saudi Arabia has regained its position as the leading purchaser of weapons in the developing world.

A report asserted that Saudi Arabia was ranked No. 1 in the developing world in arms transfer agreements and weapons acquisitions. The Congressional Research Service said Saudi Arabia achieved the ranking in 2007 after years of reduced military procurement, Middle East Newsline reported.

"In 2007, Saudi Arabia ranked first in the value of arms transfer agreements among all developing nations weapons purchasers, concluding $10.6 billion in such agreements," the U.S. report, authored by analyst Richard Grimmett, said. "India ranked second with $5 billion in such agreements."

The report, titled "Conventional Arms Transfers to Developing Nations, 2000-2007," said Saudi Arabia marked the resumption of an Arab military buildup since 2007. CRS said seven of the top weapons recipients last year were in the Middle East.

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"Most recently, the position of Saudi Arabia as principal arms purchaser in the Persian Gulf region has been re-established," the report said. "In the period from 2000-2003, Saudi Arabia's total arms agreements were valued at $3.2 billion -- in current dollars -- less than the levels of the United Arab Emirates Egypt, and Israel. For the period from 2004-2007, Saudi Arabia's total arms agreements were $23.2 billion, making it the leading Near East purchaser once again."

CRS said the Middle East accounted for 46.3 percent of all developing nation arms transfer agreements from 2004 to 2007. During the period of 2000-2003, the Middle East represented 42.3 percent of military contracts by developing nations.

The report said the United States has fallen sharply from its position as the leading weapons supplier to the Middle East. During 2004-2007, CRS said the United States accounted for 32.8 percent of military contracts to the Middle East, down from 73.6 percent from 2000 to 2003. Since 2004, Britain captured 27.9 percent of the Middle East market; Russia accounted for 20.9 percent of arms transfer agreements.

"Most recently, the nations in the Near East and Asia regions have resumed large weapons purchases in contrast with arms sales activity in the earliest years of this report," the report said. "These major orders continue to be made by a select few developing nations in these regions. They have been made principally by India and China in Asia, and Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates in the Near East. These purchasing tendencies are subject to abrupt change based on the strength of either the threat assessments of individual states or the strength of their individual economies."

Meanwhile, U.S. defense contractors have been investing in training and developing several Saudi companies. The contractors have awarded maintenance and support projects that enhanced Saudi aerospace capabilities.

Boeing has been a key contractor in enhancing Saudi defense companies. The U.S. defense giant has awarded the Saudi company, Alsalam Aircraft Co., a $29 million contract to maintain the C-130 air transport fleet of the Royal Saudi Air Force.

Under the three-year contract, Alsalam would provide programmed depot maintenance for 50 C-130s. Executives said this would include C-130 repairs, inspections, maintenance, modifications and repainting at Alsalam facilities in Riyad.

"We are honored to have this contract," Alsalam president Mohammed Fallatah said. "Through our highly skilled work force and excellent facilities, we will provide the kingdom of Saudi Arabia with efficient and timely PDM support for its C-130s."

Alsalam, established in 1998, has been deemed one of Saudi Arabia's leading defense companies. The company works with Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman and BAE systems and maintains Saudi air force F-15s, AH-64 Apache attack helicopters and the E-3A Airborne Warning and Control System aircraft. Executives said Alsalam was also working on BAE's Tornado combat aircraft at its facilities in Dhahran.

"Alsalam is one of the largest and most experienced maintenance, repair and overhaul companies in the Arabian Gulf region," Boeing said on Oct. 21.

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