Why Do The Saudis Need More F-15s?

In a rare display of candor the White House revealed the real reason why it is selling the Saudi Arabia another 85 F-15s and upgrading 70 more already in their fleet, plus a full complement munitions, spare parts, training and logistics for a mere $29.4 billion. 

It's good for business. 

We've known this all along.  It's called recycling petrodollars, but it is rare that any administration would admit it.

Judging from the White House announcement of agreement, strategic interests were secondary.  Here's why we're selling one of the "most sophisticated and capable aircraft in the world":

This agreement will positively impact the U.S. economy and further advances the president's commitment to create jobs by increasing exports.  According to industry experts, this agreement will support more than 50,000 American jobs, engaging 600 suppliers in 44 states, and providing $3.5 billion in annual economic impact to the U.S. economy.

It was nice to see such frankness, though it makes you wonder who needs the deal more, the Saudis or Boeing. 

The Pentagon also makes a profit on the sale. For starters, it charges a shipping and handling fee on every government-to-government military sale.  And economy of scale means the more weapons it sells, the lower the price for each unit when the Pentagon goes to buy the same items for itself.  Foreign sales of the F-15 have helped pay for the R&D on the project and lower the price of each one the U.S. Air Force buys. Each plane costs roughly $30 million, and that doesn't include long term contracts for spare parts, training, munitions, maintenance and long-term support. Then there are the political benefits of having the Saudis (as well as Israelis and other customers) dependent on Washington.

When any administration announces such arms sales, we're usually fed some blather about how these weapons are essential to defending the customer, in the case the Saudis and their oil wells, and America's security interests and that they will have no negative impact on the regional balance of power.

Those nine words are Pentagon code for saying the sale will not threaten Israel's strategic advantage and air superiority.  They'd say that no matter what was on the block. Unfortunately, that phrase also raises questions about the impact on the kingdom's balance of power viz its real enemy, Iran.  Isn't that supposed to be the actual reason for such massive sales of our most sophisticated weapons?

It was left to State Department briefers to talk about the strategic importance of the sale, while the White House emphasized the economic advantages. 

About the Author
Douglas M. Bloomfield is a syndicated columnist, Washington lobbyist and consultant. He spent nine years as the legislative director and chief lobbyist for AIPAC.