PARIS — Riyadh will open talks to buy French spy and communications satellites, patrol boats, and the setting up of a naval research center and a working group to study future naval projects, Saudi Arabia and France said in a Sept. 13 (eds: correct) joint statement Tuesday.
The projects were part of civil and military agreements announced following a visit to Saudi Arabia by French Prime Minister Manuel Valls and Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian.
There are hopes in France the naval study will eventually lead to a Saudi order for four multimission frigates, a deal dubbed Sawari 3, but there also is uncertainty whether such a large warship is needed in the Red Sea when patrol boats might be more fitting for this kind of narrow naval zone.
Such a range of deals, particularly the military satellites, is "very important" as it will establish there will be a long-term relationship with training and upgrades that could span some 20 years, a Middle East defense specialist said. There will also be cooperation on renewable energy work between the respective nuclear agencies.
With intense combat in Yemen, there is strong interest among the Arab Gulf nations to acquire equipment and capabilities.
On the prospective satellite deal, Airbus Defence and Space and Thales Alenia Space have teamed up to make a joint offer of two observation and two telecommunications satellites, website La Tribune reported. That exclusive deal comes after stiff competition, notably from US industry.
Airbus D&S declined comment.
Such a space deal reflects Saudi Arabia's determination to have its own satellite fleet following the US$930 million acquisition by the United Arab Emirates of two spy satellites under the Falcon Eye program, a defense specialist said. The Saudi deal could be worth some $2 billion.
Negotiations for supplying fast patrol boats for the Saudi Navy will close by the end of the year, the joint statement said.
The Saudi deal worth $600 million for 30 patrol boats of 30 meters has drawn rival bids from Construction Mecanique de Normandie, Couach, DCNS and Ocea, La Tribune reported.
Among the deals signed was a cooperation agreement between DCNS and King Abdulaziz City for Science and Technology to set up a naval research center. Research into the tides, rust from seawater and robotics are among the research areas, a spokesman for the naval systems company said. Greater cooperation on military exercises and training, and negotiations for an agreement on cooperation in science and technology, also were in the overall agreement.
Saudi Arabia has been a longstanding leading client for French arms, with DCNS and Thales holding key positions in naval and missile sectors.
On the naval side, Riyadh bought US warships to patrol the Arabian Gulf, while France delivered Georges Leygues- and Lafayette-class frigates, respectively, under the Sawari 1 and 2 contracts, for the Red Sea.