France and Saudi Arabichave concluded a $3 billion arms agreement providing for the sale of French-made highly sophisticated electronic equipment. The French Defense Ministry and the manufacturers, the state-owned Thomson-C.S.F., said yesterday that they have been asked by the Saudis not to disclose details of the agreement, reputed to be the most important of its kind ever concluded by France.
The usually reliable Le Monde said France will supply the Saudi Air Force with the latest French ground-to-air missile, the Shahine and radar equipment to guide it to targets. The Shahine, a top secret weapon, is reputed in aeronautical circles to be the world’s most efficient — and most expensive — anti-aircraft missile of its kind.
It would be used mainly to protect Saudi airports, missile bases and oil production facilities. The French are also scheduled to export advanced training equipment for the Saudi personnel who will man the missiles. French experts and Air Force personnel are to be stationed at Saudi bases for the next several years.
The agreement, formally announced yesterday, was reportedly signed a week ago by French Defense Minister Charles Hernu and Saudi Defense Minister Prince Abdul-Rahman Bin Abdul Azziz. The negotiations lasted several months and entered their final phase after the Saudi minister’s trip to Paris last May.
AN IMPORTANT FRENCH CLIENT
Saudi Arabia, which has been trying to diversify its arms supplies, has become an important French client over the last few year. In 1975, the Saudis bought Crotale ground-to-air missiles which until now formed its main anti-aircraft defense network. The Saudis also equipped their armored brigades with French AMX-30 tanks, which since 1980 gave carried supersonic missiles produced by France’s state-owned Matra Company.
Also, in 1980, the Saudis bought in France four frigates and 24 combat helicopters equipped with air-to-ground missiles.
One of President Francois Mitterrand’s first visits abroad after his election in May, 1981, was to Saudi Arabia. French officials said privately yesterday that this visit, criticized at the time, “has paid off.”