BEIRUT — Saudi Arabia will spend 171 billion riyals (U.S. $46 billion) on its military in 2022, about a 10% decrease from the 2021 defense budget of 190 billion riyals, according to the kingdom’s budget statement.

Abdullah Al Junaid, a Bahraini strategic expert and political researcher, told Defense News that the reason for the decrease is twofold: The move is part of the kingdom’s local production strategy, and the second is due to the near completion of several defense deals.

He pointed to the acquisition of the F-15SA fighter jet, for which the kingdom is nearing completion as it converts its F-15S fleet to the F-15SA standard. He also noted the nearly finished acquisition of Spanish corvettes.

Theodore Karasik, a senior adviser at the U.S.-based geopolitical consultancy Gulf State Analytics, told Defense News the spending decrease could also be an attempt at making the government more efficient — something he’s seen the kingdom try before.

“Perhaps what we’re seeing is some of the bloat of the Saudi [Ministry of Defense] being reduced so it becomes more efficient, but time will tell,” Karasik said.

Asked if this implies less participation in the war in Yemen, he said: “Not necessarily because of the requirements on the ground and of course defense capacity for protection from loitering munition attacks.”

“Saudi reduction in [its] defense budget is necessary to show that the kingdom is moving in a more systematic way toward their military requirements. The decreases are necessary to show outside observers that the kingdom is making progress in this regard as the region undergoes a dramatic defense spending shift because of current social-economic requirements. Part of this is also associated with the generation of more a indigenous defense industry in order to meet more immediate demands,” Karasik said.

An April report by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute ranked Saudi Arabia as having the sixth largest defense budget for 2020, with the country taking up a 2.9% share of worldwide military expenditure. The report also estimated Saudi Arabia spent 8.4% of its gross domestic product on its military in 2020.

According the country’s budget document, the kingdom spent 201 billion riyals on its armed forces in 2020.

Agnes Helou was a Middle East correspondent for Defense News. Her interests include missile defense, cybersecurity, the interoperability of weapons systems and strategic issues in the Middle East and Gulf region.

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