US to sell Saudi Arabia arms worth $60bn in biggest deal

Posted in Broader Middle East , United States | 15-Aug-10 | Source: The Peninsula

WASHINGTON: A proposed US weapons sale to Saudi Arabia of F-15 fighter jets also includes as many as 132 Apache attack helicopters and UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters that bring the total value of the package to around $60bn, according to a government official familiar with the plan.

The Pentagon and State Department about two weeks ago informally notified congressional committees that handle arms sales of the planned transaction, the official said.

"I think it would be the largest ever," said William Hartung, director of the New York City-based New America Foundation's Arms and Security Initiative.

"Other deals that used to be considered large," like the $9bn sale of 72 F-15s to the Saudis in 1992-93 or the kingdom's $9bn acquisition of US AWACS surveillance aircraft in 1981, "aren't even in the ballpark, even allowing for inflation," Hartung said.

The package includes 84 F-15s at a cost of $30bn and helicopter sales totalling about $30bn that include spare parts, training simulators, long-term logistics support and some munitions.

The Saudis would buy about 72 UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters and as many as 60 AH-64D Longbow Apaches, the official said. The Longbow is the US Army's premier anti-tank helicopter, capable of firing laser-guided or all-weather air-to-ground missiles. The Longbows are in addition to 12 that Congress in 2008 cleared Boeing to sell to the Saudis.

The proposal fits the Obama administration's strategy of buttressing the defence capabilities of Middle East allies to counter Iran's growing offensive missile might and suspected nuclear weapons programme. It would be part of the Gulf Security Dialogue started by the Bush administration.

The Longbow Apache has been sold to Egypt, Israel, Greece, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, the Royal Netherlands Air Force, Singapore and Taiwan.

The Pentagon intends to formally notify the Senate and House foreign affairs panels by mid-September of the final arms package, the official said.

"In the past, a record-setting deal to a region of tension like the Persian Gulf would have drawn considerable congressional opposition," Hartung said. "That does not seem to be the case this time around."

"Other foreign policy issues from Iraq and Afghanistan to the consideration of the new START treaty, seem to have taken up most if not all of the attention Congress can or will spend on foreign policy matters," Hartung said. The Senate is scheduled to consider the new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty with Russia when it returns next month from its summer recess.

Saudi Arabia's last significant US weapons purchase was 72 F-15s in 1992, a transaction valued at as much as $9bn. The last planes in that contract were delivered in November 1999.

The kingdom spent $36.7bn worldwide on arms and support activities from 2001 to 2008, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service.