Saudi Arabia on Offensive With Attack-Minded Military SplurgeBy
Mideast states favor precision weapons, fighter-refueling gear
Defense budgets rebound as perceived Iranian threat increases
Saudi Arabia and other Western-backed Mideast states have switched the focus of their military spending to more-offensive programs as tensions with Iran ratchet up, according to a study by IHS Jane’s.
Purchases of items intended to boost the attacking capabilities of warplanes, such as precision air-to-ground missiles, advanced guidance systems and air-to-air refueling gear that extends the duration of flights, are leading an increase in defense outlay, with budgets set to swell by up to 3 percent annually from 2018, the defense and security specialist said.
Spending across the Middle East and North Africa is rebounding from a decline prompted by the oil-price slump as Iran’s nuclear deal with the U.S. paves the way for the removal of most barriers to arms deals involving the Islamic republic from late 2020, according to IHS. Combined budgets for the area are likely to reach $180 billion a year by that time, with the emphasis on more-offensive systems also extending to the naval arena, it said.
“Traditionally, military capabilities in the region have been focused on territorial defense,” IHS analyst Reed Foster said in the report. Now Mideast states are acquiring equipment that will allow them to build “the kind of capabilities required to conduct operations beyond their borders.”
Saudi Arabia’s fleet of Panavia Tornado ground-attack aircraft and the 72 Eurofighter Typhoon jet fighters ordered from BAE Systems Plc are among likely beneficiaries of upgrades intended to project power over a distance. In dollar terms, the oil-rich nation had the fourth-biggest defense budget last year behind the U.S., China and India, after the pound’s collapse following last June’s Brexit vote relegated the U.K. to fifth spot from third.
Both Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates will “start to spend heavily” over the next two years as the potential threat from Iran increases, with the former set to return to budget growth this year, IHS projects.
Middle Eastern states have already increased spending on missile-defense systems over the last five years in response to concerns about the threat from the Iran, where any increase in arms outlay is likely be met with “reciprocal increases in the rest of the region,” IHS said.