Saudis eyeing more than Russian choppers

BAGHDAD, Sept. 2 (UPI) -- As Russia closes in on a $2 billion deal to sell arms to Saudi Arabia, reports reveal Riyadh's shopping list could include more than combat helicopters.

"All technical and financial issues have been practically coordinated," an undisclosed source privy to the negotiations told the Moscow-based Interfax news agency.


The source did not elaborate or refer to the military equipment Saudi Arabia is eyeing from Russia.

Still, the major deal with Rosoboronexport State Corp., Russia's state-owned arms export monopoly, is said to include up to 30 Mi-35 attack helicopters and up to 120 Mi-171B, the export take of the popular Mi-17 Hip multipurpose helicopter.

Defense analysts say the deal also consists of some 150 T-90s main battle tanks and about 250 BMP-3 infantry fighting vehicles. Russia's state-of-the-art S-400 triumph missile system was also on the Riyadh's charts.

"It took Saudi specialists and experts quite a while to study the opportunities of the Russian arms before they decided to buy them for their nation's armed forces," Pravda reported from Moscow.

With Saudi Arabia spearheading the Middle East arms race, the country's defense spending is forecast to increase next year to $44 billion.


The lucrative arms deal breaks the United States' decades-long stronghold on Saudi Arabia's arms purchases. Meantime, Russia is bent on tapping into new arms markets.

Its arms industry is one of the most successful sectors of the country's economy despite widespread budget cuts in the wake of the global economic recession.

Defense experts say Russia's S-400 missile system is unrivaled in the West, having outflanked the U.S. MIM-104 Patriot.

The system -- considered also by Turkey, Egypt and Iran -- features twice the target range of the Patriot, capable of intercepting and knocking down airborne targets at distances of up to 250 miles, according to the Defense Professionals Web site.

It was not immediately known how many S-400 systems had been ordered from Russia, although the Interfax agency said Saudi Arabia was interested in purchasing "several dozen." Defense experts believe that the system is also capable of thwarting cruise and ballistic missile attacks as well as those waged by most stealth aircraft.

Each S-400 system includes at least eight launchers, 32 missiles and a mobile command post.

However successful, the estimated $2 billion weapons deal would make Russia's T-90 the highest selling combat vehicle, "showing again that the days of U.S. and European domination over new production are long gone in the international market for main battle tanks," Defense Professionals reported.


It said the BMP-3 infantry combat vehicle was also on Saudi Arabia's Russian arms shopping list.

Although first built in 1987, the BMP-3 -- nicknamed Troika -- has gained fresh prominence in the market with nations seeking a state-of-the-art system in combination with heavy armor and protection, Defense Professionals said on its Web site.

Saudi Arabia's neighbors Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates have already integrated the BMP-3 into their armed forces.

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