Beirut, Lebanon (UPI) Sep 14, 2010
The massive U.S. arms deal with Saudi Arabia, reportedly worth $60 billion and counting, will undoubtedly calm Riyadh's fears of Iran by considerably expanding the offensive capabilities of the kingdom's air force.
But it will antagonize the Islamic Republic at a time of high tension with the United States and is sure to lead to a significant boost in the supply of even more advanced U.S. weapons system to Israel, much to the chagrin of its Arab adversaries.
The U.S. arms package looks set to grow to unprecedented levels in the months ahead. It will set in motion a buildup of Arab power in the Persian Gulf on a scale not seen before, a development that could bring far-reaching changes.
The $60 billion price tag announced so far covers new aircraft for the Saudis, mainly built by Boeing. These include 84 new-model F-15S fighters, upgrades for 70 of those already held by Saudi Arabia, 70 AH-64D Apache helicopter gunships and 36 AH-6M Little Bird helicopters.
Discussions with the kingdom are under way on the possible sale of missile defense systems, such as the Terminal High Altitude Area anti-ballistic missile weapon, and a naval upgrade that could triple that figure.
U.S. officials say the naval upgrade, if it comes off, is potentially worth another $30 billion on its own, although no details of what it would entail have been disclosed.
On top of all that, the United Arab Emirates is also seeking THAAD, manufactured by Lockheed Martin, and Kuwait has announced plans for a $900 million upgrade for its U.S.-supplied Patriots.
The Americans are encouraging Riyadh to upgrade its 16 Patriot Advanced Capability-2 batteries, which have 96 missiles, to PAC-3 standard. Some sources say a deal on this has already been pretty much wrapped up.
The fear is, of course, that far from persuading Iran to back off its alleged quest for nuclear weapons these arms deals to its Arab neighbors will only make it feel less secure and reinforce its effort to become a nuclear power.
The United States has never before committed to such an expensive arms buildup for an ally.
The deal, which will be carried out over the next decade, will provide a major boost for the U.S. defense industry at a time of growing unemployment. It involves some 77,000 existing jobs and possibly creating some new ones as well, according to Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, General Electric and others.
The gigantic Saudi arms package also gives U.S. President Barack Obama a major coup ahead of the midterm congressional elections in November.
The U.S. Congress which must approve such military sales is expected to nod the Saudi deal through, although this might not take place until after the elections Nov. 2.
In the past, Israel has opposed such massive military additions to Arab states on the ground they would undermine its technological edge, which the United States has pledged to maintain.
But this time the Israelis have been quiescent because of U.S. assurances Washington won't give the Saudis long-range precision weapons, known as standoff systems, which could threaten the Jewish state.
More importantly, the Israelis, who have been restructuring their armed forces to meet the strategic threat of a nuclear-armed Iran, can expect a steady flow of advanced weapons, such as the new F-35 stealth fighter being developed by Lockheed Martin, possibly even at concessionary prices.
What other military aid the Americans may now come through with, possibly as an inducement to Israel's right-wing government to push Obama's Middle East peace drive forward, remains to be seen.
So, too, does whether Israeli hard-liners will accept the proposition of arming Arab states to the teeth to counter Iran, rather than unleash pre-emptive strikes to knock out Tehran's key nuclear installations.
But even so, as it stands, the arms deal, and those that might follow, demonstrates a remarkable convergence between the strategic concerns of the United States, Israel and the conservative Arab states in the Persian Gulf over Iran's nuclear and expansionist ambitions in the region.
Whether this will translate into a major geopolitical realignment in the Middle East isn't clear. But the arms deal has raised concerns about the militarization of the Gulf Arab States.
earlier related report
Under the potential 60-billion-dollar (47-billion-euro), 10-year deal, the Saudis would be authorised to buy 84 new F-15 fighters and upgrade 70 more, as well as buy 178 attack helicopters and various missiles.
That should give the oil giant a clear advantage over Iran and any other of its neighbours save Israel, experts said.
The deal, revealed by US defense officials on Monday, would represent a sweeping upgrade of Saudi Arabia's military that could also see an additional 24-27 billion dollars spent on naval vessels and missile defence systems, a Saudi defence expert said.
"It's so big because we need an entire modernisation of our armed forces," he said.
The package, which much be approved by the US Congress, would also include 70 Apache, 72 Black Hawk and 36 Little Bird helicopters; HARM anti-radar missiles, precision-guided JDAM bombs, Hellfire missiles and fighter pilot helmets that have high-tech displays.
The goal is to establish clearly Riyadh's military superiority over its neighbours, including its current Arab allies, defence analysts said.
"We need to guarantee our security and the security of our allies," said the Saudi expert.
The Saudis are most worried about Iran's push to build missiles with greater precision and longer range, and possibly a nuclear weapons capability.
The United States, Israel and many Western countries suspect Iran is using its civilian nuclear programme as a cover to develop weapons, which is denied by Tehran.
The existing Saudi fleet of 70 F-15s, to be updated under the new contract, 80 European-built Tornados, and 72 Typhoon Eurofighters currently being delivered, already gives the Saudis air superiority, according to Theodore Karasik of the Institute for Near East & Gulf Military Analysis in Dubai.
"Iran's air force is not very capable. I think either the Saudis or the UAE (United Arab Emirates) could take them out quickly," he said.
Any conflict with Iran could endanger the Saudis' principal oil production facilities, and the arms package would increase defence and counter-attack capabilities.
"If Israel is not involved, Saudi Arabia will have to take care of its own air space against the Iranian threat," said Karasik.
He said the package is also a response to failures in Saudi Arabia's three-month assault on Shiite rebels along the Yemeni border in late 2009 and early 2010.
The better-armed Saudi forces lost at least 109 men in guerrilla-type fighting in the craggy border mountains, and the conflict went on many weeks longer than they expected.
"The Saudi forces were not prepared for this type of warfare. They suffered much in the same way the Soviets did in Afghanistan," Karasik said.
The strike helicopters, the JDAM smart bombs, and night warfare technology possibly in the package would boost Saudi capabilities in this kind of scenario, according to Karasik.
The Saudis had also wanted to buy missile-carrying drones like the Predator used by US forces in Afghanistan, but were unlikely to get them, according to another analyst who requested anonymity.
The roots of the massive deal go back to the administration of US president George W. Bush, who laid the ground in 2007 for large defence sales to America's Gulf allies in the face of Iran's perceived threat, hoping to deepen security ties.
"This (deal) locks us in to 10 to 15 years of close defense cooperation" with Washington, the Saudi expert said.
Analysts saw the deal as posing little threat to Israel, and, in the way it deepens US-Saudi ties, actually benefitting the Jewish state.
Israeli leaders as a matter of habit will criticise the deal, said Yiftah Shapir, a military expert at the Institute for National Security Studies at Tel Aviv University.
"But in this case it's not a real threat to Israel. We really have to see it as directed against Iran. In this case, Israel and Saudi Arabia are on the same side. They are not used to it," he said.
One crucial part of the package, an advanced radar configuration for the new F-15s, has not been decided yet, according to the Saudi expert.
The Pentagon did not give any details on this. However, Aviation Week and Space Technology reported in August that the Saudis are seeking a Raytheon-made AESA (active electronically scanned array) digital radar that allows pilots to spot small, moving objects, like fighters, 150 nautical miles (278 kilometres) away.
The current standard radars only pick up large objects like airliners at that distance, Aviation Week and Space Technology said.
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Pentagon vows to cut waste in contracts
Washington (AFP) Sept 14, 2010
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