Saudi Arms Deal Advances
- White House to Notify Congress Soon of $60 Billion Package, Largest
Ever for U.S. -
Associated Press. September 12, 2010. The Obama administration is set to
notify Congress of plans to offer advanced aircraft to Saudi Arabia
worth up to $60 billion, the largest U.S. arms deal ever, and is in
talks with the kingdom about potential naval and missile-defense
upgrades that could be worth tens of billions of dollars more.
The administration plans to tout the $60 billion package as a major job
creator—supporting at least 75,000 jobs, according to company
estimates—and sees the sale of advanced fighter jets and military
helicopters to key Middle Eastern ally Riyadh as part of a broader
policy aimed at shoring up Arab allies against Iran.
The talks between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia have been widely known for
months, but many new details are only now coming into focus. These
include the number and type of aircraft involved, how much the Saudis
intend to spend in an initial installment, and the ongoing negotiations
to also upgrade the kingdom's navy and missile defenses.
The $60 billion in fighter jets and helicopters is the top-line amount
requested by the Saudis, even though the kingdom is likely to commit
initially to buying only about half that amount.
In a notification to Congress, expected to be submitted this week or
next, the administration will authorize the Saudis to buy as many as 84
new F-15 fighters, upgrade 70 more, and purchase three types of
helicopters—70 Apaches, 72 Black Hawks and 36 Little Birds, officials
The notification triggers a congressional review. Lawmakers could push
for changes or seek to impose conditions, and potentially block the
deal, though that is not expected.
On top of the $60 billion package of fighter jets and helicopters, U.S.
officials are discussing a potential $30 billion package to upgrade
Saudi Arabia's naval forces. An official described these as "discreet,
bilateral conversations" in which no agreement has yet been reached.
That deal could include littoral combat ships, surface vessels intended
for operations close to shore, the official said.
Talks are also underway to expand Saudi Arabia's ballistic-missile
defenses. The U.S. is encouraging the Saudis to buy systems known as
THAAD—Terminal High Altitude Defense—and to upgrade its Patriot missiles
to reduce the threat from Iranian rockets. U.S. officials said it was
unclear how much this package would be worth.
The U.S. has sought to build up missile defense across the region, and
the Saudi package could be similar to one in the United Arab Emirates,
officials said. THAAD is built by Lockheed Martin Corp. and Raytheon Co.
supplies the system's radar. THAAD is the first system designed to
defend against short- and intermediate-range ballistic missiles both
inside and outside the Earth's atmosphere. It complements the
lower-aimed Patriot missile defense system, providing a layered defense.
Lockheed officials have stated that they see serious export potential
for the system in the Middle East, where a major concern exists about
Iran's ballistic missile development.
The prospect for job growth could help build support in Congress for the
$60 billion package, officials said. "It's a big economic sale for the
U.S. and the argument is that it is better to create jobs here than in
Europe," said one person close to the talks.
Boeing Co., which makes the F-15s, the Apaches and the Little Birds,
believes the Saudi package would directly or indirectly support 77,000
jobs across 44 states. It is unclear how many jobs, if any, would be
supported by the Saudi purchase of Black Hawks, made by Sikorsky.
Production levels are already high at Sikorsky, which is owned by United
The Saudis in recent years have broadened their acquisitions to include
more European- and Russian-made weaponry. That thinking was partially
behind Riyadh's 2007 deal to purchase dozens of Eurofighter fighter
planes from BAE Systems PLC, Saudi officials said.
Pro-Israel lawmakers have voiced concerns in the past about arms sales
to Saudi Arabia that they say may undercut Israel's military edge and
provide support to a government with a poor human rights record.
U.S. officials say the Israelis are increasingly comfortable with the
Saudi sale because the planes won't have certain long-range weapons
systems. Also, the Israelis are in line to buy a more advanced fighter,
the F-35, and should begin to receive them around the same time the
Saudis are expected to start getting the F-15s. "We appreciate the
administration's efforts to maintain Israel's qualitative military edge,
and we expect to continue to discuss our concerns with the
administration about the issues," said Michael Oren, the Israeli
ambassador to the U.S.
The senior U.S. defense official said it was unclear what pieces of
equipment in the $60 billion package the Saudis may decide not to
purchase, but he described the F-15s as a priority item. "It's
conceivable that the Saudis could come back for the whole $60 billion,"
the official said, but added, "They're balancing their own defense
The $60 billion deal will be stretched out over five to 10 years,
depending on production schedules, training, and infrastructure
improvements, officials said.
Anthony Cordesman, a scholar at the Center for Strategic and
International Studies, said the deal is so large and so complex, that
changes are inevitable.
"The actual contract often is renegotiated because the Saudis are always
going to push, we're always going to push, the Congress is going to
push, the manufacturer is going to push. This is not the kind of
negotiation where you've really agreed on the final details until you
actually have put the final contract out," he said.
By Adam Entous — Nathan Hodge
contributed to this article.
Source: Associated Press /