U.S. to Sell Up to $60 Billion of Arms to Saudi Arabia

U.S. defense official says Congress will soon be notified of arms sale to Saudi Arabia, including 84 F-15 fighter jets and 72 Black Hawk helicopters.

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The Obama administration will soon notify Congress of an arms deal with Saudi Arabia worth up to $60 billion, but the kingdom is expected to initially commit to only about half that, a senior U.S. defense official said on Monday.

The official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the package would include 84 new Boeing Co F-15 fighter jets and upgrades to another 70 of them.

It would also include 72 Black Hawk helicopters built by Sikorsky Aircraft, a unit of United Technologies Corp.

F-15 warplanes of the Saudi Air Force flying over the capital, Riyadh. Credit: AP

Earlier on Monday, Pentagon spokesman Colonel Dave Lapan said he expected Congress would receive official notification of the long-anticipated Saudi deal within the next week or so.

Lapan declined to comment on details, however, saying Congress needed to be notified first.

The senior defense official said the U.S.-Saudi arms deal also included 70 of Boeing's Apache helicopters and 36 Little Birds.

The United States and Saudi Arabia were also discussing a package for the kingdom's navy, potentially worth $30 billion, but the timing of that deal was unclear and would not be included in the upcoming congressional notification, the official said.

Upon congressional notification, lawmakers get 30 days to object to the deal. But notifications are usually not sent unless lawmakers have already broadly agreed to the sale.

Saudi Arabia was the biggest buyer of U.S. weapons during a four-year span of 2005 through 2008, with $11.2 billion in deals, according to the U.S. Congressional Research Service.

Israel, for its part, has expressed concern over the reported U.S.-Saudi deal. The issue was raised during Defense Minister Ehud Barak's last visit in Washington some two months ago, in his meeting with U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates and National Security Advisor General Jim Jones.

Israel wants to ensure that if the deal is carried out, the Saudis are supplied with aircraft that are less advanced than the ones in Israel's arsenal. The biggest concern surrounds technological aircraft systems that could undermine the Israel Air Force advantage in the region.

"Today, these aircraft are to be used against Iran. But tomorrow they could be aimed at us," a defense source told Haaretz.

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