The US sale to Saudi Arabia includes 84 new Boeing F-15 fighter jets and 70 upgrades of existing Saudi F-15s [GETTY]
The United States plans to sell up to $60bn worth of military aircraft to Saudi Arabia, the US state department has announced, the largest US arms sale ever.
Andrew Shapiro, the assistant secretary of state for political-military affairs, told a news conference on Wednesday that the US administration did not anticipate any objections to the sale from Israel, traditionally wary of arms sales to nearby Arab countries.
The sale, which had been expected, includes 84 Boeing F-15 fighter jets and 70 upgrades of existing Saudi F-15s.
It also includes 70 of Boeing’s Apache attack helicopters and 36 AH-6M Little Birds, lightweight helicopters often used in special operations.
Under the deal, Saudi Arabia also has the option to buy 72 Black Hawk helicopters built by Sikorsky Aircraft, a unit of United Technologies Corp.
Al Jazeera’s John Terrett, reporting from Washington said “the Saudi’s are not getting what Israel already has, and that is the F-35, or Joint Strike Fighter, the newest aircraft out there.”
“The US congress now has 30 days to block the deal, and if they don’t, then formal negotiations about the delivery date will open up.”
Shapiro said the total value of the package would not exceed $60bn, although he emphasised that Saudi Arabia may not choose to exercise all of its purchase options during the programme, which will last from 15 to 20 years.
Alexander Vershbow, the assistant secretary of defence for international security affairs, said the US had discussed the matter with Israel, and concluded that it would not undercut Israel’s qualitative military edge in the region.
“We have consulted with Israel as this sale has taken shape […] based on what we’ve heard at high levels, Israel does not object to this sale,” he said.
Vershbow and Shapiro both stressed that bolstering Saudi Arabia’s own defence capabilities would improve US security in a vital part of the world where fears are growing over Iran’s nuclear programme.
“This is not solely about Iran,” Shapiro said. “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.”
“The State Department is spinning things very carefully, putting the emphasis on jobs, because this is going to preserve hundreds of thousands of US defence jobs at companies like Boeing and UTC,” our correspondent reported from Washington.
Vershbow said the sale would improve Saudi Arabia’s ability to co-ordinate with the US on shared security challenges “so it means we may have to station fewer forces on a continuing basis in the region”.
US and international concern about Iran’s growing military capability includes advances in a nuclear programem the West believes is aimed at developing atomic weapons – accusations Tehran denies.
Washington has also flagged concern about Iran’s growing missile capabilities and has been helping Arab states boost their missile defences.
That includes the expected sale of the THAAD missile defence system manufactured by Lockheed Martin Corp to the United Arab Emirates.
Similar talks are underway with Saudi Arabia.
US officials are also discussing a possible deal to upgrade Saudi Arabia’s navy, which one official estimated could be worth an additional $30bn.