The visit of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to the UK last week ended on a high, as the UK government signed a Memorandum of Intent with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, with the aim of finalising discussions for the purchase of an additional 48 Typhoon for the Royal Saudi Aircraft. The two governments, with the support of UK industry, led by BAE Systems, now aim to finalise a contract for the purchase within the coming months. This is great news for the extensive UK-based supply chain.
It comes hot on the heels of the announcement that the government is working on a National Combat Air Strategy for publication later this year. Confirmation that Saudi Arabia intends to finalise the long anticipated second order of Typhoon will be extremely welcome in Whitehall as it works up this strategy. It’s success will depend upon there being sufficient industrial throughput to sustain the key skills employed on the Typhoon programme while the long-term plan to establish the capabilities the RAF will need from its next generation of fast jets, and the UK industry required to deliver them, is determined.
These industrial considerations will be central to the design of a successful strategy. The UK defence-aerospace industry is made up of close to 2,500 companies, employing more than 128,000 people - some 26,000 of them in highly skilled research, design and engineering jobs. BAE Systems employs around 5,000 people on the Typhoon programme alone.
If the strategy is, as the Defence Secretary has promised, designed to ‘bring together the best of British engineering, skill and design, and deliver a compelling vision for the future of air power’ then the success of UK defence-aerospace exports will continue to be critical to sustaining the necessary mass to deliver for the RAF; the importance of which stretches right down the supply chain.