Arms Exports


In written evidence from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office concerning UK Arms exports used in Yemen by the Saudi-led coalition, the government confirmed the following:

35. Reports of UK arms used in Yemen by Saudi Arabia/Coalition

UK-built and licensed Typhoon and Tornado aircraft from the Royal Saudi Air Force have been deployed on combat missions in the Yemen campaign. UK- sourced weapons (including Paveway precision-guided bombs and small numbers of Dual Mode Brimstone and Storm Shadow missiles) have also been used. In addition, we have in the past supplied the UAE with PGM 500 precision-guided bombs (also known as the Hakim 2) that have also been used in the conflict, [31].

20120907 Eurofighter Typhoon ZJ927, Patrick Cardinal, 2012, (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) Creative Commons via Fickr

20120907 Eurofighter Typhoon ZJ927, Patrick Cardinal, 2012, (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) Creative Commons via Flickr, [81]

The government lists further arms the UK has supplied to Saudi Arabia;

“30. Under a Government-to-Government Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) signed in 1986, the UK has supplied the Saudi Armed Forces with a range of military aerospace and naval equipment and services that has included Tornado, Hawk and Typhoon military aircraft, naval Minehunters and weapons, logistics support, training and infrastructure packages. The Government-to-Government agreements are managed by the Ministry of Defence Saudi Armed Forces Projects team (MODSAP) with the delivery of equipment and services contracted through MODSAP onto BAE Systems, the designated Prime Contractor under the 1986 MOU,” [31].

Brimstone on Tornado, 2012, Think Defence (CC BY-NC 2.0)

Brimstone on Tornado, 2012, Think Defence (CC BY-NC 2.0), [80]

This next section of Written Evidence outlines how British personnel are involved as part of the deal, in providing support, training and overseeing the maintenance of the aircraft, and training the crew. They are effectively providing a range of military support to the whole operation which is being carried out by the Saudi-led coalition who are using the aircraft to bomb targets above Yemen.

Sana'a by Kate Nevens, - before the bombing (CC Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0)

Sana’a by Kate Nevens, – the Old City, UNESCO Heritage site, before the bombing (CC BY-NC 2.0), [80]

“32. Under these long-standing arrangements, the above support for the Saudi Typhoon and Tornado fleets includes support for aircraft deployed on operations over both Yemen and Syria, but UK personnel are not permitted or required to participate in such operations. For example, MODSAP and BAE Systems personnel have not loaded weapons for operational sorties, nor have they been involved in the planning of operational sorties. It is worth noting that British personnel are not involved in carrying out strikes, directing or conducting operations in Yemen or selecting targets and are not involved in the Saudi targeting decision-making process.”

In the House of Lords on 6th July 2015, The Marquess of Lothian asked the MoD,

“To ask Her Majesty’s Government what support the United Kingdom is providing to the government of Saudi Arabia in its military campaign in Yemen.”
It was answered by Earl Howe on 14 July 2015;

“We are not participating directly in Saudi-led military operations in Yemen, but we are providing technical support, precision-guided weapons and exchanging information with the Saudi Arabian armed forces through pre-existing arrangements.

In addition to the personnel who continue to provide support for equipment supplied, we have a small number of liaison personnel in Saudi and coalition air and maritime headquarters. This includes personnel in the Maritime Coalition Coordination Centre in the region supporting the delivery of humanitarian aid into Yemen,” [30].



In March 2015, when the conflict escalated, the UK government met Saudi requests for additional UK assistance and support. This involved the UK agreeing to accelerating the delivery of Raytheon’s Paveway precision guided bombs, [2], which were being used in the airstrikes. Major components of Paveway bombs are built at the Raytheon facility in Glenrothes, Fife. To meet the request for assistance, the UK MoD went out of its way to help the Saudis by diverting 500 lb Paveway IV guided bombs to the Saudis, which were originally intended for the RAF. The outcome of this action was to directly enable Saudi Arabia to continue striking targets in Yemen and Syria, [34]. Paveway bombs are produced by Raytheon UK.

This is confirmed by the “Written Evidence from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (UKY 13)” – “Military Support to Saudi Arabia during the conflict in Yemen.”

“As the conflict in Yemen escalated in March 2015 the Saudi Government requested additional UK support. After consideration of Saudi needs and the UK’s domestic and international legal obligations the Government has: accelerated delivery of Paveway precision-guided bombs; provided increased training in targeting and weapon use to help improve Saudi processes; provided liaison officers in Saudi headquarters to observe Saudi processes, increase the UK’s insight into the air campaign and help to improve maritime access to Yemeni ports by identifying vessels that may be breaching the arms embargo; and scoped and met Saudi training needs to help strengthen defences at the Saudi southern border which has suffered repeated cross border raids.”


Countries such as the UK, that are party to the Arms Trade Treaty, are prohibited from authorizing an arms transfer if they have knowledge that the arms would be used to commit attacks against civilians, civilian objects or other violations of international humanitarian law.  (Amnesty International 11/12/2015 [11])


Both Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have documented evidence of the Saudi-led coalition’s use of cluster munitions in populated, civilian areas in Yemen. The Saudi-coalitions reported use of cluster munitions in populated areas in Yemen would contravene IHL, [25 para 26] as they are inherently indiscriminate. Cluster bombs produce 147 bomblets which spread over the land and are designed to kill and injure civilians [29].

Ta'izz (Yemen), by eestl (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) Creative Commons via Flickr - taken before the bombing

Ta’izz (Yemen), by eestl, (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) Creative Commons via Flickr – taken before the bombing. Children this age are particularly  vulnerable to picking up the cluster munition bomblets out of curiousity, [81]

Cluster munitions are banned under the Convention on Cluster Munitions, to which the UK is a signatory, although Saudi Arabia is not. The UK has not supplied cluster munitions to Saudi Arabia since 1989 and has not supplied, maintained or supported these weapons since signing the Convention on Cluster Munitions in 2008.

As Oliver Sprague from Amnesty International states, by using these weapons, Saudi Arabia and its allies demonstrated a casual disregard for the rules of war, which should be a very important and significant factor in the UK’s decision whether or not to supply Saudi Arabia with arms, given the examples of how they are being used [25].




In 2016 when some of the hostilities appeared to die down, many children and their families returned to their homes in northern Yemen. However they were still in  risk of serious injury and death from thousands of unexploded cluster bomb submunitions which had been dispersed over the land, [73].

It took till the 19th December 2016 for General Ahmed al-Asiri, the spokesperson for the Saudi Arabia-led military coalition, to state that they would cease use of UK-made BL-755 cluster munitions. This confirmed Amnesty Internationals findings that this type of munition had been used since at least December 2015, [74].

Importantly, as a signatory to the Convention on Cluster Munitions, the UK is obliged to do all they can to prevent the use of cluster munitions in armed conflict. So prior to 19/12/16 when given evidence from Amnesty of the use of a UK supplied cluster munition in Yemen, all the then Foreign Secretary promised to do, was to seek further assurances from Saudi Arabia that they have not used cluster bombs. As others have stressed, it is not enough to rely on assurances. At first Saudi Arabia denied the use of cluster munitions [25] and then carried out it’s own investigation. It took seven more months for the government to confirm that Saudi Arabia had confirmed that UK cluster bombs had been dropped [29].

Before the Saudi’s got around to carrying out their own investigation into their use of Cluster munitions in Yemen, the then parliamentary select committee recommended that, for the UK to fulfil it’s obligations, the MoD needed to carry out its own investigation into the use of UK-supplied cluster bombs by the Saudi-led coalition. They also recommended that the UK Government sets out the steps it has taken to stop Saudi Arabia using cluster munitions, and sets out what it has done to ensure that aircraft supplied by the UK and UK personnel are not implicated in the deployment of cluster munitions, [25].


What does a regime have to do—how many breaches of international humanitarian law must it commit?—before this Government deem it an unacceptable partner to deal in arms with? Brendan O’Hara (Argyll and Bute) (SNP)


Yemen, World Bank Photo Collection, Photo: Scott Wallace / World Bank Photo ID: SW-RY1131a World Bank, (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) Creative Commons via Flickr

Yemen, World Bank Photo Collection, Photo: Scott Wallace / World Bank
Photo ID: SW-RY1131a World Bank, (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) Creative Commons via Flickr, [81]

Richard Spencer, Middle East Editor, writing for the Telegraph gives more background on the revelation that British officers have also been present in the Saudi Arabian HQ in Riyadh during operations.
He states that the admission that British officers were working alongside Saudi and other coalition colleagues in the campaign’s operations rooms came in a briefing to journalists by the Saudi foreign minister, Adel al-Jubeir.
Adel al-Jubeir said “We asked a number of allied countries to come and be part of the control centre,” and added “I know they are aware of the target lists.”
The Ministry of Defence said that the military officials were not directly choosing targets or typing in codes for the Saudi “smart bombs” but confirmed that they were training their counterparts in doing so.
“We support Saudi forces through long-standing, pre-existing arrangements,” a spokesman said, adding that the purpose of training was to ensure “best practice” and compliance with international humanitarian law [70].


  “We must put a stop to these double standards and halt all arms exports to Saudi Arabia until those responsible for horrific acts of violence against children are held to account. The UK must put the defence of children before the commercial interests of arms exporters.” (Save the Children boss Kevin Watkins, The Mirror Chris Hughes 5/2/2017,[12])


Sana'a boys, by Charles Roffey (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0) Creative Commons via Flickr - taken before the bombing

Sana’a boys, by Charles Roffey (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0) Creative Commons via Flickr – Taken before the bombing, [82]

The UK has refused to call for an independent UN-led inquiry into war crimes [60]. Furthermore, Saudi Arabia has successfully lobbied the UN Human Rights Council to prevent it from creating an independent, international investigative mechanism.
In a Joint NGO letter to Permanent Representatives of Member and Observer States of the UN Human Rights Council, various respected NGO’s [22] wrote to urge members of the UN Human Rights Council to support the High Commissioner’s call for an international, independent investigation into civilian deaths and injuries in Yemen – a call repeatedly made by national, regional and international civil society organizations.
Politicians and NGOs are urging the UK government to vote against Saudi retention of the chairmanship of the UN Human Rights Council in light of the ongoing brutal war in Yemen. The chairmanship allows the Saudi regime significant influence over UN human rights policy and also influence over reports into violations, (19th Aug 2016, [61]). Human Rights Watch report that Saudi Arabia’s retention of the chairmanship of the UN Human Rights Council follows its successful blackmail campaign to have the Saudi-led coalition removed from the UN secretary-general’s “List of Shame” for killing and maiming children and attacking schools and hospitals in Yemen. Saudi Arabia got its way, though at the cost of its outrageous tactics being made public. The media reported that Saudi Arabia and its allies had threatened to withdraw hundreds of millions of dollars in assistance to the UN if the coalition was not removed from the list, [62 and 63].


UN Geneva Human Rights and Alliance of Civilizations Room. The meeting room of the UN HRC, by Ludovic Courtes (CC BY-SA 3.0) Creative Commons via Wikimedia Commons

UN Geneva Human Rights and Alliance of Civilizations Room. The meeting room of the UN HRC, by Ludovic Courtes (CC BY-SA 3.0) Creative Commons via Wikimedia Commons, [83]

Countries that are party to a conflict have an obligation under International Law to investigate credible allegations of war crimes and hold those responsible to account.
Human Rights Watch is not aware of any credible investigations by Saudi Arabia or other coalition members into these or other allegedly unlawful strikes or laws-of-war violations, nor of any compensation provided to victims, [71and 72].