Britain’s defense giant BAE Systems sold £15bn worth of arms and services to the Saudi military during the last five years, the period covered by Riyadh’s involvement in the deadly bombing campaign in the war in Yemen learned GDC quoting the Guardian newspaper.
Figures taken from the company’s most recent annual report and newly analysed by the Campaign Against the Arms Trade (CAAT) reveal the British arms maker generated £2.5bn in revenues from the Saudi military during the whole of 2019.
That takes the total sales of BAE arms and services to the Saudi military for the period between 2015 and 2019 – including the period from the start of the Saudi bombing in March 2015 – to slightly over £15bn, or 17.3% over the five years.
The data also reveals that the true value of British arms sales to the Gulf kingdom is far greater than the £5.3bn total value of UK export licences since the Saudi-led coalition began its campaign in Yemen.
The apparent discrepancy is caused by the fact that official export total does not include the value of arms sold to Saudi Arabia via so called open licences, which allow a wide range of hardware to be included without their cost recorded.
“These figures expose the cozy relationship between the Saudi regime and BAE. But they also imply that the value of UK arms sales is far greater than government figures show,” Smith added.
Sales of UK-manufactured arms to Saudi Arabia have been called into question since the war began, although a succession of British ministers, including Boris Johnson when he was foreign secretary, have signed off on exports to the kingdom despite mounting evidence that civilians were being killed in air strikes.
At other times, British support for Saudi Arabia has been overt. Five years ago, at the outset of the conflict, Philip Hammond, then Britain’s foreign secretary, declared: “Britain will support the Saudi-led assault on Yemeni rebels in every practical way short of engaging in combat.”
Exports of British arms to Saudi that could have been used in Yemen were halted in the summer of 2019 when the Court of Appeal ruled that in June 2019 that no formal assessment had been made by ministers to see if the Saudi-led coalition had committed violations of international humanitarian law.
BAE maintains and supplies Tornado jet aircraft to the kingdom’s airforce and provides “operational capability” to the country’s air and naval forces. Sales to Saudi Arabia accounts for 35% of the company’s air division, the largest single destination for its military aircraft.
The company’s relationship with Saudi Arabia is structured via massive multi-year contracts signed between the UK and the Saudi governments, in which BAE is effectively a sub-contractor, its revenues partly guaranteed by the involvement of the British state.
The Saudi military is BAE’s third largest customer overall, after the US Department of Defence and the UK’s Ministry of Defence. In 2019, revenues from the Pentagon – the world’s largest buyer of arms – accounted for £6.5bn, while in the UK, where BAE builds and maintains ships for the Royal Navy, the figure was £3.9bn.
A BAE Systems spokesperson said: “We provide defence equipment, training and support under government to government agreements between the UK and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. We comply with all relevant export control laws and regulations in the countries in which we operate and our activities are subject to UK government approval and oversight.”
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