Monday, July 26, 2010

U.S. Considering Saudi Arms Sales Valued at Up to $30 billion

U.S. is considering an arms sale package for Saudi Arabia having a potential value of close to $30 billion, according to the director of the Defense Security Cooperation Agency, Navy Vice Adm. Jeffrey Wieringa.

The package will include 84 new Boeing F-15 jet fighters, 72 UH-60 Black Hawk utility helicopters, and the refurbishment of 70 F-15s already in Royal Saudi Air Force service. The latter F-15s were acquired by the Saudis in 1992, the last large-scale purchase by Riyadh of U.S. equipment.

While the Saudis continue to lean heavily on the U.S. as a source of its military materiel, the kingdom also opts to diversify its supply chain by courting British, French, and Russian providers. In September 2007, the Saudis agreed to a $9 billion deal with U.K.-based BAE Systems regarding delivery of 72 Eurofighter Typhoon combat aircraft - a deal titled "Project Salam."

But the lure of American technology and the strategic relationship between the Saudi kingdom and the U.S. binds the ongoing arms connection between the two countries. In August 2007, the Bush administration began its Gulf Security Initiative, which involved a proposed series of arms sales meant to improve the defense capabilities of the six Arab nations that make up the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). The proposed arms sale package was estimated at the time to be worth $20 billion, mainly directed toward Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). These two countries' requests through Washington's government-to-government Foreign Military Sales (FMS) channel have been largely focused on aviation, anti-missile air defense, and naval platforms.

For the U.S., providing arms to the Saudis is a way of building trust with a key ally in the Gulf region, providing them with improved military capabilities, enabling the Saudi military to become more interoperable with American forces, and creating a security counterweight to Iran. It also allows the U.S. to recycle its own petro-dollars by tapping into one of the world's most target-rich arms-importing markets.

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