Tuesday, August 17, 2010

U.S.-Saudi Arms Package Set to Grow Even Bigger

The $30 billion arms package that the Obama administration has been preparing for Saudi Arabia could double in size thanks to the inclusion of up to 130 attack helicopters. If fully approved, the $60 billion, 10-year arms agreement would be the largest in U.S. history.

Earlier reports mentioned the sale of 84 new Boeing F-15 jet fighters and the refurbishment of 70 F-15s already in Royal Saudi Air Force service, with a few mentioning the inclusion of as many as 72 UH-60 Black Hawk utility helicopters. Under the latest reports, this new expanded arms package will include both UH-60 Black Hawks (70) and Apache Longbow attack helicopters (60).

Already, the sweep of this expanded deal has elicited concerns in Israel that its qualitative military edge (QME) will diminish if the sale is completed. However, administration officials' hope to calm Israeli fears by assuring them that select weapons systems that Israel fears could offset their military advantage will not be included in any sale. Even if such systems were inserted into an FMS proposal, Congress could still hold up - or block outright - their sale to countries in the Middle East. Officials have stressed that the new F-15s will not be outfitted with standoff weapons.

The large arms package planned by the Obama administration continues a trend begun by the Bush administration in 2007, whereby the U.S. provides sophisticated armaments and service assistance to Arab states allied with Washington. The goal behind such packages is threefold: first, to reassure regional allies that the U.S. will not abandon them; second, to create a strategic bulwark against potential Iranian regional designs; and third, it solidifies these countries as markets for U.S. hardware as well as allows for a degree of interoperability between U.S. and Gulf Arab allied forces.

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