Britain’s leading arms manufacturer BAE Systems sold £15bn worth of arms and services to the Saudi military during the last five years, the period covered by Riyadh’s involvement in the deadly bombing campaign in the war in Yemen.
Figures taken from the company’s most recent annual report and newly analysed by the Campaign Against the Arms Trade (CAAT) reveal the British arms maker generated £2.5bn in revenues from the Saudi military during the whole of 2019.
That takes the total sales of BAE arms and services to the Saudi military for the period between 2015 and 2019 – including the period from the start of the Saudi bomb.
Andrew Smith of CAAT said: “The last five years have seen a brutal humanitarian crisis for the people of Yemen, but for BAE it’s been business as usual. The war has only been possible because of arms companies and complicit governments willing to support it.”
Thousands of civilians have been killed since the civil war in Yemen began in March 2015 with indiscriminate bombing by a Saudi-led coalition that is supplied by BAE and other Western arms makers. The kingdom’s airforce is accused of being responsible for many of the 12,600 killed in targeted attacks.
The data also reveals that the true value of British arms sales to the Gulf kingdom is far greater than the £5.3bn total value of UK export licences since the Saudi-led coalition began its campaign in Yemen.
The apparent discrepancy is caused by the fact that official export total does not include the value of arms sold to Saudi Arabia via so called open licences, which allow a wide range of hardware to be included without their cost recorded.
“These figures expose the cozy relationship between the Saudi regime and BAE. But they also imply that the value of UK arms sales is far greater than government figures show,” Smith added.
Exports of British arms to Saudi that could have been used in Yemen were halted in the summer of 2019 when the Court of Appeal ruled that in June 2019 that no formal assessment had been made by ministers to see if the Saudi-led coalition had committed violations of international humanitarian law.
The UK government has appealed to the Supreme Court to have the judgment overturned, but the Court of Appeal judgment remains valid until the UK’s highest court completes its review of the high-profile case.
BAE maintains and supplies Tornado jet aircraft to the kingdom’s airforce and provides “operational capability” to the country’s air and naval forces. Sales to Saudi Arabia accounts for 35% of the company’s air division, the largest single destination for its military aircraft.
The company’s relationship with Saudi Arabia is structured via massive multi-year contracts signed between the UK and the Saudi governments, in which BAE is effectively a sub-contractor, its revenues partly guaranteed by the involvement of the British state.
The Saudi military is BAE’s third largest customer overall, after the US Department of Defence and the UK’s Ministry of Defence. In 2019, revenues from the Pentagon – the world’s largest buyer of arms – accounted for £6.5bn, while in the UK, where BAE builds and maintains ships for the Royal Navy, the figure was £3.9bn.