Riyadh acquires cutting edge fighter jets amid Yemen escalation

Riyadh acquires cutting edge fighter jets amid Yemen escalation
Nearly two years into Saudi Arabia's war in Yemen, the kingdom unveiled its next-generation fighter jets, purchased as part of a major US arms deal six years ago.
2 min read
27 January, 2017
Saudi Arabia launched a military campaign in Yemen two years ago [AFP]

Saudi Arabia showed off its next-generation fighter jets this week, the first batch of military items bought in a $30 billion US arms deal, as the UN warned the kingdom’s military campaign in Yemen may pull the war-torn country into famine.

The kingdom unveiled the new Boeing F-15SA jets during an air-show and parade attended by King Salman and his son, Defence Minister and Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman on Wednesday, bought as part of a $30 billion US arms deal made during the former Obama administration.

The deal – described as the most expensive US arms sale to a foreign country - included orders for upgrades to Saudi Arabia’s 70 older F-15s, HARM AGM-88 Anti-Radiation Missiles, Laser JDAM and Enhanced Paveway munitions and related equipment and services.

For two years, Saudi Arabia has led a military campaign against Houthi rebels in Yemen, in a war that has so far left more than 10,000 people dead and millions more in dire need of assistance.

Despite a report by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute which stated in April that Saudi Arabia was the world’s third-largest defence spender, the kingdom’s state-of-the-art technology has done little to push back Houthis from rebel-held areas, including Sanaa and several cities along the Red Sea coast.

“There’s no question that impressive equipment has been a boon to the Saudi-led coalition,” said Adam Baron, a visiting fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations. “But ultimately, state of the art weaponry is one thing and the situation on the ground is another.”

Saudi Arabia’s air show came as the United Nations aid chief warned on Thursday that Yemen was sliding deeper into humanitarian crisis and could face famine this year.

"The conflict in Yemen is now the primary driver of the largest food security emergency in the world," Stephen O'Brien, the UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, told the Security Council.

"If there is no immediate action, famine is now a possible scenario for 2017."

About 14 million people – nearly 80 percent of the entire Yemeni population – are in need of food aid, half of whom are severely food insecure, O'Brien said.

At least two million people need emergency food assistance to survive, he added.

The situation is particularly dire for children with some 2.2 million infants now suffering from acute malnourishment – an increase of 53 percent from late 2015.