Procurement: Saudi Arabia Builds UAVs


May 11, 2021: In early 2021 two Saudi Arabian firms began assembling Turkish Karayel armed UAVs under license. Some components are produced in Saudi Arabia but most come from Turkey. The current plans are to build 40 Karayel in Saudi Arabia between 2021 and 2025. These will be called Haboob UAVs. This is not mass production, but Saudi Arabia is seeking to build local industries employing Saudi citizens in order to get away from near total dependence on oil income and the use of foreign workers form most non-government jobs. There are several UAV development projects going on in Saudi Arabia for Saudi designed UAVs to be built in Saudi Arabia. The Haboob license is apparently part of that.

The Turks have already sold the Saudis an undisclosed number of Turkish built Karayels. The Turkish military tried out and purchased the Karayel in 2016 and has since used it in combat over Syria and eastern Turkey. At least one Saudi Karayel was shot down in Yemen by rebels operating along the Saudi border. This UAV may have been flying lower to obtain more detailed video of what was below and came within range of rebel anti-aircraft missiles. Or it may have had equipment problems. Whatever the case the Saudis had at least one of them, which is now lost.

Karayel is a half-ton UAV with a max endurance of 20 hours and a controlled flight range of 200 kilometers. Preprogrammed flights can go much farther. Karayel can fly high enough (6,500 meters/20,000 feet) to avoid most anti-aircraft weapons. Karayel is well designed, with multiple redundancies and automatic (software controlled) landing and takeoff. Max payload is 190 kg, which means for shorter (a few hours) missions it can carry four Turkish made 22.5 kg (50 pound) Mam-L laser-guided missiles (similar to Hellfire) or two 50 kg GPS guided bombs. For longer (up to 20 hour) surveillance missions Karayel carries only about 55 kg of sensors (day/night vidcams or even a lightweight radar).


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