The British government is in early talks with Bahrain over a potential order for the Eurofighter Typhoon. (Adrian Dennis / AFP)
LONDON — The British government is in early talks with Bahrain over a potential order for the Eurofighter Typhoon fighter.
King Hamad al-Khalifa, in London this week, met with British Prime Minister David Cameron midweek for talks on a range of regional and other issues, including Bahrain’s plans for a modernization of its armed forces.
No numbers have been mentioned so far, but the Bahrainis are thought to be looking to eventually buy about 12 aircraft, probably to replace a squadron of aging F-5 Tiger jets currently in service alongside two squadrons of F-16s, said industry executives here.
Any sale of weapons to the Bahraini government is bound to be highly controversial against a backdrop of continued suppression of political reform in the small gulf island state, which has been ongoing since riots sparked by the Arab Spring in 2011.
A spokesman for the Defence & Security Organisation (DSO), the British government’s defense sales arm, confirmed exploratory discussions about a possible sale have taken place.
“We are in discussions on a potential sale of Typhoon with the Bahraini Air Force. These discussions are at a very early stage but we welcome the Bahraini interest,” said the DSO spokesman.
Eurofighter consortium member BAE Systems is leading the industrial effort to sell the Typhoon in the gulf region. The combat jet has already been purchased by Oman and Saudi Arabia.
A spokeswoman for BAE acknowledged Bahrain had expressed an interest in Typhoon and said the company was “supporting the government in these discussions.”
Bahrain was not among a list of Middle East sales prospects for Typhoon mentioned by BAE Chief Executive Ian King when the company unveiled half-year results Aug 1.
King said an additional order for between 48 and 72 Typhoons was possible in Saudi Arabia along with a potential deal for 60 fighters being negotiated with the United Arab Emirates. Further out, Qatar and Kuwait are also potential buyers in the region.
The BAE boss said a UAE sale would be a “game changer” for Typhoon.
Reuters reported the Bahrain national news agency Aug. 7 saying that al-Khalifa told Cameron a purchase of Typhoons could create a cohesive defense system among the Gulf Cooperation Council members.
All of the GCC nations have either purchased Typhoon or have indicated possible interest in acquiring the European jet built by BAE, EADS and Finmeccanica.