The Obama administration is seeking a go-ahead from Congress to sell up to $60 billion worth of sophisticated warplanes to Saudi Arabia and could add another $30 billion worth of naval arms in a deal designed to counter the rise of Iran as a regional power.
The deal would apparently represent the largest single U.S. arms sale ever approved. It would allow Saudi Arabia, the most militarily advanced of the Arab Gulf states and one of the richest countries in the world, to buy top-line U.S.-made helicopters and fighter jets with ranges that would span the Middle East and beyond.
Unlike some previous sales to Saudi Arabia, this one is not expected to be derailed by opposition in Congress or from U.S. backers of Israel, who have worried in the past about blunting Israel’s military edge over its Arab neighbors.
That’s more than half of the regular DoD procurement budget in 2010 and a number equal to the entire defense budget of the UK for this year (adjusted roughly to USD).
Iran is now seen by Israel, the Gulf Arab states and the West as a significant and unpredictable threat that has changed the old calculus of the region’s balance of power.
The U.S. is realigning its defense policies in the Gulf as Iran improves the range and accuracy of missiles and other weapons that could threaten Israel or U.S. allies in Europe. Besides the Saudi deal, the U.S. has pending or proposed arms sales to Kuwait, Oman, and the United Arab Emirates, and has repositioned some U.S. forces and military assets around the Gulf.
And the Pentagon is hinting the reason is to build a bulwark against Iran? Come on. If Iran strikes Saudi in any kind of conflict, it isn’t going to be by flying ragged out F-14s or second hand MiG-29s on a cross-country Kamikaze mission. It’s going to be from a suicide vest in a royal palace or a car bomb of Prince Bandar’s motorcade.
They’re going to need MRAPs not Apaches.
One wonders why the Saudis need the high-end, major-theater-war gear. Is it prestige? A bulwark against Israel? Something fun for the princes and their buddies to fly to Dubai in?
Or maybe it’s a nice pick-me-up for a defense industry that’s about to take a hit to the gut from a departing Gates.