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US announces proposed $60bn sale of military aircraft to Saudi Arabia

Posted 21 October 2010 · Add Comment

Reuters reported that yesterday the US Defense Department notified Congress that it wants to sell Saudi Arabia up to $60bn worth of aircraft and weapons.

According to notices sent to Congress on Wednesday, the proposed sale - which may be the largest to another country in US history if all purchases are made - includes 84 new Boeing F-15 fighter jets (and upgrades to 70 more Saudi already holds) at a cost of $29.4bn, 140 helicopters (including spare parts, training simulators, long-term logistics support and some munitions) at $31 billion and satellite-guided bombs.

The deal will contain 72 Black Hawk helicopters built by Sikorsky Aircraft (a unit of United Technologies Corp.), plus 70 of Boeing's Apache attack helicopters and 36 of its AH-6M Little Birds, whilst power for aircraft and helicopters will be provided by General Electric Co. F-110 and T700 engines.

During a news conference held yesterday, US assistant secretary of state for political-military affairs, Andrew Shapiro, stated that the US State Department plans to sell as much as $60bn worth of planes and helicopters to Saudi Arabia over the next 15 to 20 years, with the intention of helping protect the Middle East against the threat of Iranian military expansion. Reuters reported that Mr. Shapiro told the news conference the US administration did not anticipate any objections to the sale from Israel, traditionally wary of arms sales to nearby Arab countries. He said: "We think it will enhance regional security and stability rather than diminish it."

Also present at the news conference was Alexander Vershbow, assistant secretary of defense for international security affairs. He said the move could also improve military coordination with the US and may lessen the need for US forces in the region.

Shapiro said the total value of the package would not exceed $60bn, although he emphasised that Saudi Arabia may choose not to exercise all of its purchase options during the programme.

Vershbow and Shapiro both stressed that bolstering Saudi Arabia's own defense capabilities would improve US security in a vital part of the world where fears are growing over Iran's nuclear programme.

Shapiro said: "This is not solely about Iran. It's about helping the Saudis with their legitimate security needs ... they live in a dangerous neighbourhood and we are helping them preserve and protect their security."

Vershbow said the sale would improve Saudi Arabia's ability to coordinate with the United States on shared security challenges "so it means we may have to station fewer forces on a continuing basis in the region."

Congress has until Nov. 20 to stop the sale before the Defense Department and companies proceed into more detailed talks with Saudi Arabia on contracts that, if executed, could extend a decade. Congress will review the proposed sale during its scheduled Nov. 15-19 post-election session.

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