Thursday, December 29, 2011

U.S., Saudi Arabia Finalize F-15 Fighter Deal

The U.S. State Department announced Dec. 29 that it finalized a $29.4 billion sale of Boeing-made F-15 fighter jets to Saudi Arabia.
U.S. AIR FORCE F-15 Eagles fly over Thailand during exercises in March. (Master Sgt. Cohen A. Young / U.S. Air Force)
"The United States and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia have signed a government-to-government agreement under the Foreign Military Sales program to provide advanced F-15SA combat aircraft to the Royal Saudi Air Force," White House spokesman Joshua Earnest said in a statement.
The agreement was signed Dec. 24, according to the State Department.
The Obama administration first notified Congress of the sale, which includes 84 new aircraft and the modernization of 70 existing aircraft as well as missiles, spare parts, training, maintenance and logistics, in October 2010.
Delivery of the new aircraft will begin in early 2014, while upgrades to older models will start later in the year, according to the State Department.
The sale reinforces "the strong and enduring relationship between the United States and Saudi Arabia, and demonstrates the U.S. commitment to a strong Saudi defense capability as a key component to regional security," Earnest said.
With this sale, the two countries' air forces will become more interoperable, especially because they will train together on the aircraft, Principal Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Policy James Miller said during a press conference.
According to Miller, 5,500 Saudi Arabian personnel will be trained through 2019.
It will also send a strong message to countries in the region that the United States is committed to stability in the Persian Gulf, Assistant Secretary of State for Political-Military Affairs Andrew Shapiro told reporters.
The timing of the announcement and the latest tensions between the United States and Iran in the Strait of Hormuz are not connected, according to Shapiro.
"This is not directed toward Iran; this is addressing Saudi Arabia's defense needs," he said, adding that work on the sale precedes the latest news out of the region. "We did not gin up a package based on current events in the region."
By law, the U.S. government must evaluate all sales to the region based on Israel's security needs. Having conducted that assessment, "We are satisfied that this sale will not decrement Israel's qualitative military edge," Shapiro said.
The Obama administration officials also emphasized the positive impact the sale would have on U.S. jobs.
According to the State Department, it will lead to 50,000 American jobs in the aerospace and manufacturing sectors. Boeing, the prime contractor, will work with over 600 suppliers in 44 states.
According to a recent report from the Congressional Research Service, Saudi Arabia has remained one of the top three purchasers of U.S. defense articles and services since 2003.
From 2007-10, the United States signed $13.8 billion worth in government-to-government sales agreements with the country.

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