By Arab News
By P.K. Abdul Ghafour
Saudi Arabia has boosted its defense capabilities with a $29.4 billion arms deal with the United States.
The Kingdom confirmed on Friday that it has signed the deal to purchase 84 F-15SA fighter jets.
A Defense Ministry spokesman said the deal includes 70 Apache attack helicopters, 72 Black Hawk helicopters, 36 AH-6i helicopters and 12 MD-530F helicopters as well as upgrading of 70 existing F15 jets.
“The agreement also includes munitions, spare parts, training, maintenance and logistics for several years to ensure high level of defense capabilities for the Kingdom to safeguard its people and land,” the Saudi Press Agency quoted the spokesman as saying.
He said the deal came in line with the desire of Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah, supreme commander of the armed forces, to strengthen the defense capabilities of Saudi forces.
In a previous statement, Defense Minister Prince Salman emphasized the need to modernize the Kingdom’s armed forces and bolster its defense capabilities in the face of growing challenges and threats.
In a similar statement, Chief of Staff Gen. Hussein Al-Qubail warned against the dangerous developments surrounding the Kingdom and had called for quick action to modernize the armed forces.
The defense spokesman did not say how much the deal would cost but the US said it is worth $29.4 billion and would support more than 50,000 US jobs and give the American economy a $3.5 billion annual boost.
The announcement came with tensions between Iran and the US on the rise after Tehran threatened to close the Strait of Hormuz to oil tankers if Washington imposes a new raft of sanctions over its nuclear program.
“This agreement reinforces the strong and enduring relationship between the United States and Saudi Arabia, and demonstrates the US commitment to a strong Saudi defense capability as a key component to regional security,” said White House spokesman Josh Earnest on Thursday in Honolulu.
According to one report, the Saudi-US deal — the single priciest US arms sale to a foreign country — was signed on Saturday in Riyadh. It was first unveiled in October 2010 as part of a $60 billion US arms sale to Saudi Arabia. The delivery of the whole package will unfold over 15 to 20 years, US officials said.
First deliveries of the aircraft will be made in early 2015, while the modernization of existing planes will start in 2014 and the first payments for the deal are expected in the coming weeks and months. Administration officials described the sale of advanced F-15s as designed to bolster overall Saudi defenses in an uncertain region. “In the Middle East right now, there’s a number of threats,” said Andrew Shapiro, assistant US secretary of state for political-military affairs.
“Clearly one of the threats that they face, as well as other countries in the region, is Iran,” he said. But the sale was “not solely directed” toward Iran, Shapiro said. “This is directed toward meeting our partner Saudi Arabia’s defense needs,” he said.
The Obama administration in October 2010 notified Congress of the proposed F-15 sale as part of a potential package valued at up to $60 billion over 10 to 15 years, including the 84 advanced Boeing F-15SA fighters with cutting-edge Raytheon Co radar equipment and digital electronic warfare systems for which BAE Systems Plc is the key supplier.
The head of Boeing’s military business, Dennis Muilenburg, told Reuters the deliveries would take about five years to complete, extending the F-15 production line toward the end of this decade.
Senior Pentagon official James Miller said the new F-15s “will be the most capable and versatile aircraft in the Royal Saudi Fighter inventory.” He added: “The F-15SA will have the latest generation of computing power, radar technology, infrared sensors and electronic warfare systems.”
Saudi Arabia was the biggest buyer of US arms from Jan. 1, 2007 through the end of 2010, with signed agreements totaling $13.8 billion, followed by the United Arab Emirates, with $10.4 billion, according to a Dec. 15 Congressional Research Service report.