Riyadh: Saudi Arabia unveiled its next-generation fighter-bomber on Wednesday, nearly two years after beginning a controversial air war in Yemen.
At a ceremony and air show in the Saudi capital, a hangar opened to reveal one of the F-15SA Eagle aircraft made by US manufacturer Boeing. A missile was attached to the belly of the plane displayed against the backdrop of a giant Saudi flag.
Watched by King Salman and his son, Defence Minister and Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the unveiling at the King Faisal Air Academy was part of a ceremony to mark the school’s 50th anniversary and the graduation of its latest class.
Sudan’s President Omar al-Bashir, whose country is part of the Saudi-led coalition fighting rebels in Yemen, also attended.
The coalition began air strikes over Yemen in March 2015 after Iran-backed Huthi rebels and allied troops loyal to ex-president Ali Abdullah Saleh overran much of Yemen.
Riyadh feared the Huthis would seize all of Yemen and move it into the orbit of Shiite Iran, Sunni Saudi Arabia’s regional rival.
The bombing campaign has faced repeated criticism from rights groups over civilian casualties. Saudi Arabia is to add 84 F-15SA warplanes to its air force under a nearly $30 billion deal signed in 2011 that also included Black Hawk and Apache helicopters.
According to IHS Jane’s Defence Weekly, the first of the F-15SAs — the most advanced version of the Eagle built so far — arrived in December.
Saudi Arabia also has Eurofighter Typhoons and Tornados, which joined several F-15s — including the newest version — in the air show held over the skies of Riyadh.
The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute reported in April that Saudi Arabia was the world’s third-largest defence spender.
According to the International Institute for Strategic Studies, Saudi Arabia had an air force of 20,000 personnel and 313 combat-capable aircraft. Most are versions of the F-15.