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U.S. Justice Department investigation into British corruption in sale of Tornado aircraft to Saudis (in which Shell played a key role)


BAE Flies First Saudi Typhoon From 2007 Deal

Published: 21 Oct 17:49 EDT (21:49 GMT)
London – BAE Systems has flown the first aircraft destined for Saudi Arabia in a multibillion-pound deal signed last year. A second Saudi aircraft is due for completion in the next few weeks.

Work on the Saudi contract is gathering pace even though the British have yet to secure export approval from Washington for American equipment used in the combat aircraft. The approval remains blocked by U.S. Justice Department investigations into alleged corruption by the British in an earlier aircraft deal with the Saudis.

The first flight of the Saudi jet on Oct. 20 came just 24 hours before Britain’s Royal Air Force (RAF) took delivery of the first of a new generation of Eurofighter Typhoon combat aircraft with full multirole capability.

The arrival of the two fighters at the Coningsby air base in eastern England marks the start of deliveries of some 91 Tranche 2 aircraft scheduled to be handed over to the RAF over the next few years. Twenty-four of the RAF’s Tranche 2 aircraft are being diverted off the production line to meet the requirements of export customer Saudi Arabia to obtain early delivery slots of the potent multirole fighter.

The Saudis are buying 72 Typhoons in a huge deal with the British, agreed last year.

The first of those Saudi-bound aircraft flew for the first time Oct. 20 from BAE’s production site at Warton in northwest England. A second aircraft destined for the Saudi Air Force is also expected to be completed this year, along with a further two RAF aircraft.

A BAE spokesman confirmed the flight had taken place.

At least eight Typhoons on the BAE production line are destined for the Saudi Air Force. Saudi pilots are already in the United Kingdom training with the RAF.

Deliveries to the Middle East oil producer are scheduled to get under way mid-2009 if the British government obtains export clearance from Washington.

Approval has been held up for months as a result of a U.S. Justice Department investigation into alleged British corruption in the earlier sale of Tornado aircraft to the Saudis.

In February, the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which is responsible for approving U.S. technology exports, asked the Department of Justice whether the Typhoon sale would prejudice the ongoing corruption investigation. The committee is still awaiting a reply.

The Eurofighter consortium of BAE, EADS and Finmeccanica recently completed delivery of the 148 aircraft contracted for in Tranche 1 to the British, German, Italian and Spanish air forces. Forty nine of those were for the RAF.

Later deliveries of the Tranche 1 aircraft to the British had a limited-air-to-ground capability using precision guided bombs. The new Tranche 2 aircraft with uprated computers and strengthened airframe will eventually be capable of carrying Storm Shadow cruise missiles, Paveway IV bombs and a range of other weapons.

Negotiations over the delivery of the third, and final, tranche of aircraft for the four nations is at a crucial stage. Budget difficulties in Britain and Italy could lead to the final deal for 236 aircraft being split into two batches, with some ordered now and the remainder a few years later.


*Headline and comment in brackets by John Donovan

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