Beijing ‘Shell Shocked’ By Saudi’s Decision To Abandon 052D Warship Under US Pressure – Local Media

Keen to upgrade its navy, Saudi Arabia had approached China for its Luyang-class destroyers. However, in a move that has reportedly upset Beijing, Saudi Arabia awarded Spain the contract for the destroyers. Chinese experts believe that the US’s arm-twisting saw Saudi Arabia backing out of the deal.  

Saudi Arabia opted for Spain to supply its warships in a deal instead of going for the Chinese 052D warships. China was very confident of winning the multi-billion-dollar deal. Still, Saudi Arabia paid Spain for the warships, which would soon become the backbone of the Saudi Navy for the next ten years, ending all opportunities for the Chinese 052D warships, the local media writes.

Saudi Arabia purchased Dongfeng-3 missiles from China in the 1960s. It is a liquid-fueled, single-stage missile with a range of about 3,000 kilometers for a 1,000-kilogram payload. It can carry nuclear weapons, but the missiles sold to the Saudis have conventional warheads. The range of the DF-3 allows Saudi Arabia to target Iran.

The report claimed that Saudi Arabia had set its eyes on the 052D destroyer after being highly impressed by the efficacy of the Chinese weapons.

The 052D warship of the Luyang class is one of the most modern warships in the People Liberations Army-Navy (PLA-N) and is often compared to the Arleigh Burke-class destroyers of the US Navy.

US Navy Arleigh Burke
File Image: US Navy Arleigh Burke

The 7,500-ton 052D destroyers, also known as the Luyang III-class destroyer, are guided missile destroyers. It features a canister-type vertical launching system (VLS), allowing for greater missile deployment flexibility. Unlike the revolver-type VLS, the new system is not limited to surface-to-air missiles.

The destroyer is equipped with a flat-paneled active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar, enhancing its surveillance and tracking capabilities. Type 052D is China’s first dedicated multi-role destroyer, capable of handling various mission profiles.

It is equipped with a 130 mm naval gun, HQ-10 short-range surface-to-air missile (SAM) 24-cell launcher, 64-cell vertical launching system (VLS) for various missiles, including the HHQ-9 SAM, YJ-18 supersonic anti-ship missile, and CY-5 anti-ship missile. It also has a hangar and landing pad for helicopters.

The purchase of 052D destroyers would signify a tectonic shift in the Middle East’s geopolitical landscape, with Saudi Arabia ditching its primary military supplier, the US, and forging closer ties with China.

Spain has also sought to deepen its cooperation with Riyadh. The Spanish manufacturer, Navantia, has created a joint venture with Saudi Arabia Military Industries (SAMI) – now known as SAMINavantia – to position its platforms in the Arab market. The two organizations developed the first Saudi naval combat management system, the Hazem.

In 2022, Navantia signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Saudi Ministry of Defense to explore an opportunity to build several multi-mission combat ships.

Agustín Alvarez, naval construction director at Navantia, confirmed that the country was considering five of these types of vessels and that the company expected to receive a detailed proposal for requirements by 2024.

Under the agreement, the Spanish firm would localize up to 100 percent of naval shipbuilding, combat systems integration, and ship maintenance to contribute to the Kingdom’s Vision 2030 objectives, the Saudi monarchy’s signature political agenda.

Navantia officials are currently assessing which local shipbuilders and manufacturers would best fit into a program.

Getting A Piece Of Saudi Arabian Budget Pie

Saudi Arabia’s defense budget is US $76.7 billion, which gives the oil-rich nation a significant advantage over its regional rivals, Israel and Iran, which have budgets of $18.5 billion and $8 billion, respectively.

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The kingdom has invested heavily in recent years. In 2014, it was the world’s biggest importer of defense equipment. Most weapons come from US companies, with the UK and Spain in second and third place.

The local media went on to say that the PLA Navy made an exception for Saudi Arabia by allowing its representative to board the warship. Photos were released as a representative of the Middle Eastern country reached China to facilitate the deal. Hence, the news of Saudi Arabia opting for a Spanish frigate with a displacement of 2,000 tons stunned the Chinese administration.

Some military experts believe that if Saudi Arabia obtains the 052D, its naval strength will leap among the top three in the world. It added that the US had threatened Saudi Arabia with sanctions if it did not back out from the deal to buy Chinese destroyers.

“The US does not want to see any small country ‘rise.’ The United States has declared that it will be desperate to impose sanctions on Saudi Arabia’s purchase of 052D. Saudi Arabia, which relies on US oil imports in exchange for economic development, naturally fears ‘retaliation’ from the US and can only ‘force it out’ to let the opportunity slip away,” the Chinese report added.

The report made the case for the 052D by adding that it packed the same firepower as the US destroyer Arleigh Burke at half the cost. The US, unsure of its position as the world’s number one, was threatened that a country like Saudi Arabia had sought to be on par with major powers.

Compared to other arms of its military, Saudi Arabia’s navy is still expanding its capability. The Royal Saudi Navy operates from multiple bases along the 2,500 kilometers (1,600 miles) of the Saudi coastline. The country has 55 naval assets, including seven frigates. However, with its lack of aircraft carriers or destroyers, the country’s reach is limited.

The report saw it as part of Saudi Arabia’s strategy towards self-preservation in a complex geopolitical environment. It suggested that the Middle Eastern country choosing Spain would not diminish the brilliance of Chinese warships and technology.

Over the past decade, China has steadily increased its presence in the Middle Eastern arms trade. While the United States has historically been the primary supplier of arms to the region, China is now making calculated moves to tap into this lucrative market.

China’s footprint in the Middle East has expanded rapidly since the announcement of its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) in 2013. As the largest trading partner and foreign investor for several countries in the region, China is actively seeking economic investment deals, particularly in infrastructure and connectivity projects. It has also been actively pursuing defense deals in the Middle East market.

  • Ritu Sharma has been a journalist for over a decade, writing on defense, foreign affairs, and nuclear technology.
  • The author can be reached at ritu.sharma (at)
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