German Government No Longer Opposing British Sale Of Eurofighters To Saudi Arabia

Annalena Baerbock

German Foreign Affairs Minister Annalena Baerbock said Jan. 7 in Jerusalem that the "German federal government should no longer oppose the British Eurofighter sale to Saudi Arabia."

Credit: Sean Gallup/Getty

Key figures in Germany’s government have signaled that Berlin will no longer oppose a British sale of Eurofighters to Saudi Arabia.

Speaking in Jerusalem on Jan. 7, German Foreign Affairs Minister Annalena Baerbock hailed Saudi’s Arabia’s efforts in “containing the risk of a regional conflagration” against Israel following the attack by the Palestinian militant group Hamas in October.

“This is precisely why we, as the German federal government, should no longer oppose the British Eurofighter sale to Saudi Arabia,” Baerbock said.

Baerbock was later joined by Vice Chancellor Robert Habeck of the governing coalition's Green Party, who said a Eurofighter sale to Saudi Arabia would strengthen Israel’s defense.

A German embargo on new arms transfers to Riyadh had been written into the agreement signed by the parties forming Berlin's coalition government, which took power at the end of 2021. The coalition parties had been opposed to Riyadh’s conflict in Yemen against the Houthis, as well as concerns about human rights in the country.

An embargo was first imposed after the apparent Saudi state-sanctioned killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Istanbul in 2018, which immediately affected a wide range of programs, including spares support to Saudi Arabia’s Typhoon and Tornado fleets as well as weapon transfers. The embargo was later scaled back to impact new defense sales rather than existing programs, after lobbying from several European governments.

Berlin’s opposition had been a major hurdle in UK efforts to sell a second batch 48 Eurofighters to Riyadh to add to the 72 already delivered.

The UK requires Berlin's approval for the sale, as German industry produces key parts for the aircraft—with Airbus in Germany building most of the main fuselage for each Eurofighter as well as components of the platform’s Eurojet EJ200 engine.

The potential Saudi order—for which a memorandum of intent was agreed back in early 2018—could be worth more than £5 billion ($6.3 billion). It would be strategic not only for London’s relations with Riyadh, but also for maintaining manufacturing skills and capability ahead of the Global Combat Air Program with Italy and Japan, which Saudi Arabia has also expressed an interest in joining.

The UK had considered booting German companies from the supply chain to achieve the sale—an option built into the four-nation construct—but this would have invoked additional certification costs and time, media reports had suggested.

Saudi Arabia still needs to sign on the dotted line, however. Recent months have seen it courting with France on a reported sale of Dassault Rafales, instead—a platform that France can unilaterally sell.

Berlin’s unwillingness to allow a Eurofighter sale to Saudi Arabia also has been a concern for German industry, as it would have denied it crucial work. Industry chiefs—including the head of Airbus Defense and Space, Michael Schoellhorn, who is also the president of the German aerospace industries association (BDLI)—previously have said Berlin urgently needed to align its export policy with that of other European nations, particularly the other Eurofighter partner nations.

“It is a welcome signal to German aerospace industries if the federal government agrees to the export of fighter jets that German companies have designed and build together with partners from NATO countries,” said Alexander Reinhardt, managing director of BDLI. “It strengthens both the alliance and the German defense industry—also with a view to urgent projects deserving staunch support, such as the Eurofighter’s fifth tranche and the FCAS [Future Combat Air System]."

Tony Osborne

Based in London, Tony covers European defense programs. Prior to joining Aviation Week in November 2012, Tony was at Shephard Media Group where he was deputy editor for Rotorhub and Defence Helicopter magazines.