|Saudi Arabia reportedly plans to purchase $60bn worth of US made advanced fighter jets in what is the largest US arms deal ever [Reuters]
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.
Israel's superior jets
The Israelis were expected to buy a more advanced fighter jet, the F-35, and should receive them around the same time the Saudis are expected to start getting the F-15s, the report said.
"We appreciate the administration's efforts to maintain Israel's qualitative military edge, and we expect to continue to discuss our concerns with the administration about the issues," Michael Oren, the Israeli ambassador to the US, said.
The F-35 is designed to avoid detection by radar and could play a role in any Israeli effort to knock out what it regards as a threat posed by Iran's disputed nuclear programme.
Last month, Ehud Barak, the Israeli defence minister, approved the purchase of 20 F-35 warplanes from the US, in a deal worth almost $3bn.
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.