LONDON — Britain is transferring Paveway IV precision guided bombs originally earmarked for the Royal Air Force to Saudi Arabia to enable the Gulf state to build stocks of the weapon being used against targets in Yemen and Syria, sources here said.
The Ministry of Defence has swapped delivery positions on the production line at Raytheon UK to ensure the Saudi Royal Air Force has weapon stocks to continue strike missions with the highly accurate 500-pound bomb.
The RAF will receive Paveway IVs coming off the production line at a later date to replace the diverted weapons, said a source familiar with the situation.
The air forces of both nations use the precision guided bomb on BAE Systems-supplied Tornado and Typhoon jets, making stocks easily interchangeable.
The Saudis have been using the weapon for strike missions against Islamic State targets and against Houthi rebels in Yemen.
Saudi Arabia and other Arab states have been bombing the Houthis since the end of March as part of an effort to reinstate Yemen's President Abd-Rabbu Mansour who has been ousted by the rebel group.
Sources in the gulf region reported during the IDEX exhibition in Abu Dhabi in February the Saudis had been the first to drop Paveway IVs in anger from its Typhoon jets when it struck an Islamic State target soon after the weapon had been cleared for service on the combat aircraft.
Redirection of the weapons to the Saudis came to light after the MoD responded to a written House of Lords question regarding the amount of assistance Britain had given the Riyadh government in its fight against Houthi rebels in Yemen.
"We are not participating directly in Saudi-led military operations in Yemen, but we are providing technical support, precision-guided weapons and exchanging information with the Saudi Arabian armed forces through pre-existing arrangements," the MoD said in its response July 14.
A Ministry of Defence spokesman declined to comment beyond the answer given to the parliamentarian.
Raytheon UK announced it had secured its first export contract for the Paveway IV in April 2014 but never named the customer.
The sale had been held up for several years after the US State Department declined to sanction the use of US components for unspecified reasons.
The deal was reckoned to be worth about £150 million (US $234.5 million). Raytheon said it involved the delivery of "hundreds of weapons" over a two-year period.
With RAF Tornados also using the weapon against Islamic State targets in Iraq, the source said discussions are underway with Raytheon for a top-up order.
Raytheon's UK and US operations developed Paveway IV for the British with the weapon going into service in 2008.
The British government subsequently placed several orders for the weapon in the wake of the NATO air campaign in Libya, where it was widely used by the RAF.