The US State Department has made a determination approving a possible Foreign Military Sale to the Saudi Arabia of RE-3A Tactical Airborne Surveillance System (TASS) aircraft modernisation and related equipment for an estimated cost of $582m.

The 4 December announcement, published by the US Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA), stated that Saudi Arabia had earlier requested to purchase hardware and software modifications to modernise its fleet of RE-3A TASS aircraft.

Including in its request were seven GPS/INS security systems with selective anti-proofing module, five L3Harris BlackRock communications intelligence sensor suites, KY-100M narrowband/wideband secure communications terminals, integrated signals intelligence (SIGINT) systems, among other equipment. The principal contractor will be L3 Technologies, the DSCA stated.

According to GlobalData, Saudi Arabia operates two RE-3A TASS aircraft, and one RE-3B variant, all acquired from Boeing between 1981-1986. The RE-3A are among the Gulf Kindgom’s most secretive platforms, conducting SIGINT operations and the gathering of electronic data.

The aircraft are similar to the RC-135 Rivet Joint operated by the US and UK, which were derived from the C-135 design from Boeing. Saudi’s Arabia’s RE-3A/B aircraft share a common ancestry, through the Boeing 707 platform.

The Saudi RE-3A aircraft are similar to the RC-135 Rivet Joint design operated by the US and UK, which provide SIGINT/EW capability. Credit: US Air Force/Senior Airman Miles Wilson

Saudi Arabia also operates five KE-3A tankers, which share the 707 design with the RE-3A/B SIGINT aircraft. The upgrade of the RE-3A could see them move to the RE-3B ‘Improved’ standard.

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Rarely mentioned, in 2019 the DSCA referenced the Saudi Arabia’s RE-3s in an $800m follow-on support and maintenance contract, which was to provide equipment and spares for its C-130, KC-130, E-3, RE-3, and KE- 3 aircraft.

Saudi Arabia has the most capable military on the Gulf Peninsula and is a leading power in the Middle East region, offering a full spectrum set of capabilities, primarily through imports from the US and Europe.

The Kingdom’s defence expenditure increased from $55.5bn in 2019 to $69.1bn in 2023, reflecting a compound annual growth rate of 5.6% during period.