Tony Capaccio / Bloomberg.com & Teymoor Nabili / Al Jazeera – 2010-09-20 23:43:46
(August 13, 2010) — A proposed US weapons sale to Saudi Arabia of Boeing Co. F-15 fighter jets also includes as many as 132 Boeing Apache attack helicopters and United Technologies Corp. UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters that bring the total value of the package to around $60 billion, according to a government official familiar with the plan.
The Pentagon and State Department about two weeks ago informally notified congressional committees that handle arms sales of the planned transaction, the official said.
“I think it would be the largest ever,” said William Hartung, director of the New York City-based New America Foundation’s Arms and Security Initiative.
“Other deals that used to be considered large,” like the $9 billion sale of 72 F-15s to the Saudis in 1992-93 or the kingdom’s $9 billion acquisition of US AWACS surveillance aircraft in 1981, “aren’t even in the ballpark, even allowing for inflation,” Hartung said.
The package includes 84 F-15s at a cost of $30 billion and helicopter sales totaling about $30 billion that include spare parts, training simulators, long-term logistics support and some munitions.
The Saudis would buy about 72 UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters and as many as 60 AH-64D Longbow Apaches, the official said. The Longbow is the US Armyâ€™s premier anti-tank helicopter, capable of firing laser-guided or all-weather air-to-ground missiles. The Longbows are in addition to 12 that Congress in 2008 cleared Boeing to sell to the Saudis.
Fits Obama Strategy
The proposal fits the Obama administrationâ€™s strategy of buttressing the defense capabilities of Middle East allies to counter Iran’s growing offensive missile might and suspected nuclear weapons program. It would be part of the Gulf Security Dialogue started by the Bush administration.
The Longbow Apache has been sold to Egypt, Israel, Greece, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, the Royal Netherlands Air Force, Singapore and Taiwan. Northrop Grumman Corp. and Lockheed Martin Corp. provide the Apache’s radar and sensors.
The Pentagon intends to formally notify the Senate and House foreign affairs panels by mid-September of the final arms package, the official said.
“In the past, a record-setting deal to a region of tension like the Persian Gulf would have drawn considerable congressional opposition,” Hartung said. “That does not seem to be the case this time around.”
Other Issues Dominate
“Other foreign policy issues from Iraq and Afghanistan to the consideration of the New START treaty, seem to have taken up most if not all of the attention Congress can or will spend on foreign policy matters,” Hartung said. The US Senate is scheduled to consider the new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty with Russia when it returns next month from its summer recess.
Saudi Arabia’s last significant US weapons purchase was 72 F-15s in 1992, a transaction valued at as much as $9 billion. The last planes in that contract were delivered in November 1999.
The kingdom spent $36.7 billion worldwide on arms and support activities from 2001 to 2008, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service.
To contact the reporters on this story:
Tony Capaccio in Washington at email@example.com
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Saudi Splurges on Weapons … for What?
Teymoor Nabili / Al Jazeera
(September 14, 2010) — Saudi Arabia is about to buy another $60 billion worth of military hardware from the US, and even The Guardian is dutiful in parroting, without question, the accepted Western narrative:
The sale, under negotiation since 2007, is aimed mainly at bolstering Saudi defenses against Iran, which the US suspects will achieve a nuclear weapons capability within the next few years. The transfer of advanced technology, mainly planes, is to provide Saudi Arabia with air superiority over Iran.
Ignoring the fact that military aircraft (which form the bulk of the deal as we know it) are pretty much useless against a nuclear missile, especially one that does not exist, $60 billion buys a mind boggling amount of firepower, so that must mean that Saudi Arabia’s military capacity right now is woefully insufficent compared to Iran’s, right?
Saudi military spending already dwarfs Iran’s by a factor of six. Indeed, by head of population, Saudi is the world’s biggest purchaser of military hardware. Global Firepower has a direct comparison of the two nations’ military strengths, and it turns out that Iran’s military is only superior in terms of manpower numbers.
So if Iran’s intention is to send waves of soldiers marching across the desert, then maybe Saudi has something to fear. But when it comes to “air-based weapons,” Global Firepower puts the relative numbers (before this deal) at Saudi 453, Iran 84. (Bear in mind also that Iran’s aircraft are widely described as museum pieces by military analysts, because the sanctions mean that Iran has no access to spare parts or modern technology).
So why does Saudi Arabia need 84 new F-15 fighter jets, 70 upgraded F-15s, 70 Apaches, 72 Black Hawks and 36 “Little Birds”, just to fight a land army?
And when you consider the reality that Saudi has the full support of all the US military bases in the region, the suggestion that Riyadh has something to fear from Tehran is laughable.
So if the numbers don’t add up, what about the politics? Well, the suggestion that Iran is keen to invade Saudi Arabia makes even less sense than the suggestion that Tehran intends to attack Israel, and the Arab world knows it. As King Abdullah of Jordan said recently, the Arab world is much more concerned about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict than any Iran issue.
And, as a major survey of the Arab public opinion found recently, the Arab majority not only agrees with King Abdullah but is in fact very sympathetic of Iran’s right to nuclear technology, with a majority saying a nuclear-armed Iran may in fact be a good thing for the region.
Amjad Atalla of New America Foundation has an excellent summary of this whole debate here.
And the American Foreign Policy Project covers many of the myths and nuances of the military and security debates concerning Iran here.
So, if the mainstream media have missed the point, then what is really going on?
Well, with America suffering it’s worst recession in 60 years, the biggest arms contract ever signed would certainly be a welcome boost to earnings in the military industrial sector. And as I blogged a year ago, Saudi Arabia has always been keen to buy as much favor in Washington as it can, because it’s concerned that any hint of warming relations between DC and Tehran would almost by definition be a threat to Riyadh’s regional hegemony.
Meanwhile, The Guardian highlights one other, richly ironic, aspect to this deal:
While Israel sees Saudi Arabia as a useful buttress against Iran, there is a fear in Tel Aviv that a rogue Saudi pilot might opt for a suicide mission against Israel. The Israeli air force wants to maintain an advantage. So Washington will probably be announcing another big arms sale soon, this time to Israel.
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