Saudi arms purchases push global sales to US$65bn

Kingdom leads Middle East and South East Asian countries as defence spending grows most in a decade amid conflict and concern over China.

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A surge in weapons purchases by Saudi Arabia, which is leading a coalition of countries fighting in Yemen, helped to push global arms sales up by more than 10 per cent last year, according to an annual report.

The world defence market climbed to US$65 billion last year, up by $6.6bn on 2014, the consulting company IHS said in its Global Defence Trade Report. That is the largest yearly increase in the past decade, according to the Colorado company.

While Saudi purchases jumped about 50 per cent to $9.3bn, growth was seen across much of the Middle East and South East Asia.

As middle-income countries record increases in their GDP, they have more “relative resources” to spend on military equipment, according to Ben Moores, a senior defence analyst at IHS Aerospace, Defence and Security who wrote the report. The study examined trends in the global defence market across 65 countries.

The boost in Saudi weapons imports came as the kingdom leads a coalition targeting rebels in Yemen. Saudi Arabia’s purchases in the past year include Eurofighter Typhoon jets, F-15 warplanes and Apache helicopters, as well as precision-guided weapons, drones and surveillance equipment, Mr Moores said.

Egypt, whose economy has struggled since the 2011 removal of former leader Hosni Mubarak, became the world’s fourth-biggest weapons importer, spending about $2.3bn, according to the report. Before 2013, the country spent $1bn or less annually, but “there’s been this ramp up”, Mr Moores said, adding that IHS research indicates the higher spending is being underwritten by Egyptian allies France and the Arabian Gulf states.

Iraq spent about as much as Egypt as it shifts money from operations and personnel towards procurement, IHS said. The country is battling ISIL militants in the long-troubled Anbar province and is preparing for the eventual battle to retake the northern city of Mosul.

Russia, the world’s second-biggest exporter behind the United States, is likely to increase its trade with Iran as the country begins to replace its ageing air force equipment after the nuclear deal reached last year eased international sanctions, the report said. It is a “massive” undertaking that could cost between $40bn and $60bn, Mr Moores said.

In Asia, states bordering the South China Sea increased their defence spending by 71 per cent since 2009 as they aim to deter China, with purchases including aircraft and anti-ship missiles, IHS said.

The US last year supplied about $23bn in goods and equipment, of which $8.8bn went to the Middle East, boosted by the sale of aircraft and associated mission systems.

“Going forward, the total may exceed $30bn as deliveries of the F-35 begin to ramp up,” the report said, referring to the next-generation fighter aircraft built by Lockheed Martin.

France is poised to take second spot from Russia by 2018, building on a $39bn submarine order it won from Australia earlier this year, according to IHS.

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