The US government is charging ahead with a plan to sell $60bn worth of advanced aircraft and other sophisticated weapon systems to Saudi Arabia, in what is thought to be the largest US arms deal ever. The Wall Street Journal reported on Monday that the administration of Barack Obama, the US president, was also in talks with the Saudis about naval and missile-defence upgrades that could be worth tens of billions of dollars more.
Under the deal, the US is also to expand Saudi Arabia’s ballistic-missile defences “to reduce the threat from Iranian rockets”, US officials were reported to have said. They also said that it was unclear how much that package would be worth, but it could be similar to one in the United Arab Emirates. The Obama administration sees the sale as part of a broader policy aimed at supporting “Arab allies against Iran,” and is expected to notify the US congress about these plans in the upcoming weeks, the report said.
The administration plans to frame the Saudi deal as a major job creator, supporting at least 75,000 jobs, according to company estimates. This will come as a welcome boost to a job market that was shedding thousands of jobs every month as the Obama administration struggled with economic woes. While pro-Israel US lawmakers have in the past voiced concerns about arms sales to Saudi Arabia, Israel’s fears were allayed because the fighter jets would not be equipped with the type of long-range systems that could threaten Israeli soil.
The Obama administration plans to noitfy Congress that it will authorise 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 – the report noted, citing unnamed officials.
The Saudi deal, which would be stretched out over the next five to 10 years, is the top-line amount requested by the Saudis, even though they are expected to initially buy only about half that amount, the report said.