Militarism examined

UK paid more than £300m by Saudi military for weapons systems training

The Ministry of Defence was paid £303.6million by the Saudi Arabian government over the past five years for British soldiers and civil servants to facilitate the use of their deadly weapons systems.

Reacting to the figures, one MP accused the government of “complicity” in the Saudi-led war on Yemen, which has so far killed tens of thousands of civilians.

As part of a programme, called MODSAP, Ministry of Defence personnel work in Saudi Arabia supporting and training the Saudis on how to use the weapons that they buy from the UK.

New data shows how the MoD, weapons manufacturers, and the Saudi government work closely together to maintain the Saudi military. More than 200 British service and civilian personnel – 203 as of 1 April 2021 – work for the Ministry of Defence Saudi Armed Forces Projects (MODSAP), according to the figures.

The FOI data, obtained by charity Action on Armed Violence and shared with The Independent, shows that the Saudi government had paid the Ministry of Defence more than £60million each year between financial years 2016-17 and 2020-21.

The highest paid employee in the programme is the director, Air Vice Marshall Chris Snaith, who received up to £124,999 a year. One Air Commodore is paid between £109,368 and £113,794 and two senior civil servants receive salaries within the pay bracket £70,000 to £117,800 for working with the Saudis.

The organisation Campaign Against the Arms Trade (CAAT) described the £300million amount as a “very notable figure”, which showed that weapons manufacturer BAE systems, the MoD and the Saudi military are “deeply integrated”.

Dr Sam Perlo-Freeman, research coordinator at CAAT, described the MODSAP scheme as “absolutely critical in enabling [the Saudis] to maintain their war in Yemen over the past seven years.”

“At least 9000 civilians have been killed in direct attacks on civilian targets. They have hit hospitals, schools, marketplaces and agricultural facilities. This raises further questions as to the direct complicity of the UK government in the atrocities committed by the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen,” he said.

Labour MP Zarah Sultana said the MoD’s money was “soaked in Yemeni blood”.

“It is utterly shameful for the Conservative government to take hundreds of millions of pounds from the Saudi regime to run MODSAP, even supplying it with hundreds of British service personnel,” she said.

She called on the government to immediately end arms sales to Saudi Arabia and added: “The Saudi-led war on Yemen is responsible for a litany of war crimes and creating the world’s worst humanitarian crisis. These new figures yet again show our government’s complicity in this horror.”

Little has been publicly revealed about the MODSAP programme but a recent? job listing for a “business improvement manager” said that the project plays “a key role in assuring the programme delivery of Aviation and Naval equipment and services worth billions to the UK economy.”

Royal Airforce and Navy personnel work alongside MoD civil servants to ensure “requirements of the Saudi Arabian government are faithfully met and contracted programmes of work run smoothly,” another job listing outlined.

Saudi Arabia is a key buyer of UK weapons and UK’s leading arms manufacturer BAE systems has sold more than £17billion of weaponry – including the company’s Typhoon fighter jets – to the Kingdom since the war in Yemen began in 2015.

Saudi Arabia is such a big customer that in 2021 it made up an eighth of BAE’s total sales by destination.

The conflict in Yemen began in 2015 and is between Yemeni government forces, backed by a Saudi-led coalition, and the Houthis. In 2019, Britain paused new arms export licences to the country due to a court ruling which found that the government had acted unlawfully by not assessing the impact of its sale of UK arms to Saudi forces for use in Yemen.

However following a government review in July 2020, Britain resumed the sales saying that, while there were some “credible incidents of concern” related to the Saudi forces’ conduct, the UK government viewed these as “isolated incidents”.

A Ministry of Defence spokesperson said: “In line with the Integrated Review’s conclusions, the UK remains committed to its relationship with Saudi Arabia for the long term. This includes strengthening our existing relationship and exploring new areas of cooperation through increased industrial collaboration.

“The UK continues to be ambitious about the future of relationship and supporting the successful joint programmes that both countries have benefitted from over the past 40 years.”