The US has confirmed the sale of $30 billion worth of top line fighter jets to Saudi Arabia in an announcement coinciding with escalating tensions with Iran.
The deal, announced Dec. 29, will see the US send 84 new Boeing F-15s to the oil rich kingdom while upgrading Saudi Arabia’s existing fleet of 70 F-15s.
A bitter Iranian rival in its own right, Saudi Arabia is a key US partner as the Obama Administration moves to confront Iran over its suspected nuclear weapons program. Iran last month threatened to cut off oil supplies through the Straits of Hormuz if the US goes ahead with a new round of planned economic sanctions designed to strangle Iran’s oil exports.
The new fighter jets, known as F-15SAs for ‘Saudi Advanced’, include the APG-63(v)3 active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar, digital electronic warfare systems (DEWS), infrared search and track (IRST) systems, and other advanced features that make them among the world’s most capable combat jets. The 70 existing F-15s will be upgraded to the ‘SA’ specification. Deliveries are expected to begin in 2015.
The F-15s are part of a larger 10 year, $63 billion weapons deal between the US and Saudi Arabia passed by the US Congress last year. The package also includes 70 AH-64 Apache attack helicopters and 36 AH-6i helicopter gunships as well as missiles, precision guided munitions and tanks.
That deal, in turn, is part of $123 billion in arms sales to Persian Gulf monarchies that come as the US seeks new ways to project its influence in the Middle East after withdrawing its troops from Iraq. The US is also pushing forward with $11 billion in arms sales to the Iraqi government despite worsening political chaos in that country.