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Infantry Weapons

Saudi Arabia continues to acquire arms from Eastern Europe

05 June 2019
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Saudi soldiers from an RSLF mechanised infantry unit are seen carrying Romanian Pistol Mitraliera model 1965 assault rifles. The RSLF also uses locally produced Heckler & Koch G3 and Steyr AUG rifles. Source: Saudi Press Agency

Saudi Arabia has continued to acquire Soviet-type weapons and equipment that are not known to be used by its own armed forces, according to reports released by the UN Register of Conventional Arms (UNCROCA).

Bulgaria told the UNROCA that it exported six BTR armoured personnel carriers (APCs) and six BM-21 Grad multiple rocket launchers to Saudi Arabia in 2018.

Saudi Arabia has now received 38 BM-21s since Slovakia exported two to the kingdom in 2014, according to reports submitted to the UNROCA, although the type has never been seen in service with the Royal Saudi Land Forces (RSLF), which uses the Brazilian ASTROS instead.

Saudi Arabia has also received a total of 30 BTRs, 12 MT-LB tracked carriers, and 50 OT-64 SKOT wheeled APCs, none of which are known to be in Saudi service.

Serbia reported that it supplied another 50 unidentified combat vehicles and 50 large-calibre artillery systems to Saudi Arabia in 2018, the latter of which could be mortars with a calibre larger than 75 mm. Riyadh has received more than 1,900 such weapons from former Eastern European countries since 2014.

The UNROCA reports also show that the Saudis have received sufficient infantry weapons between 2014-18 to equip several divisions: 113,000 assault rifles and 5,600 light machine guns, 1,900 heavy machine guns (including 23 mm anti-aircraft guns), 450 smaller mortars, and 4,270 grenade launchers.

The RSLF and some Saudi Interior Ministry forces use AK derivatives alongside NATO-calibre weapons, but most of these appear to be older Romanian-origin rifles. There has been no indication of units being re-equipped with new Bulgarian rifles.

Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia and Russia are negotiating a deal under which AK-103 assault rifles - a type already used by RSLF special forces - will be license produced in the kingdom.

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