Saudi Arabia is poised to purchase five Avante 2200 corvette patrol vessels from Navantia, a Spanish state-owned shipbuilding company, which offers its services to both military and civil sectors.
The contract, which could be worth as much as $3.3 billion U.S. (IHS Jane’s), is expected to be signed in the coming days during King Philip VI’s official visit to Riyadh from November 12 (Spanish News Today).
The corvettes appear to be for the Royal Saudi Naval Forces (RSNF)’s Eastern Fleet. In 2015, Riyadh had been in talks with Lockheed Martin for the procurement of six surface combatants – including four 3,500-ton “frigate-like warships” (Defense News) – for the Eastern Fleet.
Earlier this year, a report, released by the military think tank Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), earlier this week showed that Saudi Arabia has become the largest importer of arms in the Middle East, ranking second internationally.
In the last five years, it has seen weapons imports increase by 275% over the previous five year period, largely to fuel its expanding wars.
In October 2015, the U.S. State Department approved a proposed sale – valued $11.25 billion – to Saudi Arabia for four multi-mission warships based on Lockheed Martin’s Littoral Combat Ship (LCS). However, in early 2016, Riyadh reportedly balked at the offer, ostensibly on cost grounds.
In February 2016, Riyadh approved a purchase for five Avante 2200 corvettes from Navantia.This would be Navantia’s largest export contract to date.
It is not known how the RSNF will configure and arm their new corvettes, but if these ships are being bought in lieu of the LCS-based Multi-Mission Surface Combatant (MMSC), these corvettes could be equipped for anti-ship warfare (AShW) and anti-air warfare (AAW) via the Harpoon Block-II and Evolved Sea Sparrow (ESSM), respectively.
The ongoing sale of military hardware to Saudi Arabia by Western states has been vociferously criticised by rights groups who have pointed to the use of such equipment in deadly attacks on civilians in Saudi-led coalition airstrikes in Yemen.
The US is the largest supplier of military hardware to Saudi Arabia, followed by the UK, and France.