Saudi Arabia has bolstered its defence capabilities by ordering four additional Airbus A330 Multi Role Tanker Transport (MRTT) aircraft, signalling a step in its Vision 2030 initiative.

According to GlobalData’s intelligence on the Saudi Arabian defence market, the Royal Saudi Air Force (RSAF) already has six Airbus A330 MRTT tanker aircraft, acquired in 2013 and 2014.  

In a move that underlines Saudi Arabia’s commitment to enhancing its military, the Kingdom has ordered four more Airbus A330 MRTT aircraft for the RSAF. This acquisition, announced on 10 July 2024, marks the third such contract between Saudi Arabia and Airbus, reinforcing the RSAF’s position as one of the largest operators of this tanker aircraft.

The newly ordered aircraft will begin conversion in early 2026, with operational deployment slated for 2027. These tankers will play a role in air-to-air refuelling and transport missions, further enhancing the operational reach and logistical support of the RSAF.

“This new order demonstrates the high level of customer satisfaction with the A330 MRTT,” stated Jean-Brice Dumont, Head of Air Power at Airbus Defence and Space. Including a logistics support package encompassing spare parts, training services, and ongoing support ensures that the RSAF can maximise the utility and longevity of its expanding fleet.

Strategic industrial cooperation and Vision 2030

This contract represents a deeper partnership aimed at industrial growth and technological advancement within Saudi Arabia. The Industrial Participation (IP) agreement signed between Airbus and the General Authority for Military Industries (GAMI) in January 2024 is central to this deal. This agreement is a bedrock of the Vision 2030 agenda, Saudi Arabia’s long-term plan to diversify its economy from oil dependency and foster a solid industrial base.

The IP agreement includes technology and knowledge transfer initiatives, empowering local companies to participate actively in the defence sector. SAAMS, a joint venture between Saudi Arabian Military Industries (SAMI) and Airbus, is set to front these industrial localisation efforts. This collaboration aims to nurture a self-sustaining defence industry within the Kingdom, providing high-tech job opportunities and driving economic growth.

Global market leadership

The A330 MRTT has a 90% market share of the global tanker market outside the United States. With 82 orders from 15 countries across Europe, Asia, America, and Oceania. Configured with hose and drogue pods, a boom system, and a refuelling receptacle, the RSAF’s A330 MRTTs are equipped to conduct refuelling operations, ensuring interoperability.

In years gone by, Airbus has seen developments in its A330 MRTT aircraft programme across various countries. Germany and Norway joined with an order for five A330 MRTTs, Singapore achieved full operational capability for its A330 MRTTs, Spain had a procurement agreement for three A330 MRTTs, whilst Airbus’s €1.2bn contracts with France aim to upgrade and support the French A330 MRTT fleet.

A forward-looking partnership

This latest order from Saudi Arabia reinforces its military capabilities and signifies a forward-looking partnership with Airbus that transcends traditional procurement. By embedding industrial cooperation and technology transfer into the contract, Saudi Arabia is positioning itself as a region’s burgeoning hub of defence manufacturing.

As the RSAF prepares to integrate these new aircraft into its fleet, the broader implications for Saudi Arabia’s defence strategy and economic diversification efforts are profound. This order indicates Saudi Arabia’s foresight and commitment to building a self-reliant and technologically advanced defence sector in alignment with Vision 2030.

In other recent RSAF developments, Saudi Arabia allocated $65.8m for a maintenance contract aimed at enhancing the operational readiness of its fleet of F-15 Eagles.