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Fighter jet sales to Gulf allies backed by US after a wait

Thursday, September 29, 2016 - 08:12

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The US has approved the long-stalled sale of fighter jets by Boeing Co and Lockheed Martin Corp to Persian Gulf allies in deals valued at as much as US$20 billion, according to people familiar with the decision.

[WASHINGTON] The US has approved the long-stalled sale of fighter jets by Boeing Co and Lockheed Martin Corp to Persian Gulf allies in deals valued at as much as US$20 billion, according to people familiar with the decision.

The sales to Bahrain, Qatar and Kuwait can go ahead unless they are rejected by the US Congress. An "informal notification" sent to the House and Senate foreign affairs committees Wednesday begins an initial review that could last as long as 40 days, according to the officials, who asked not to be identified in advance of a formal announcement that will come later. That notice will trigger an official 30-day review.

The aircraft sales will deliver on pledges by President Barack Obama and the Pentagon to bolster the weaponry of Sunni-led nations in the Middle East. Those allies were left angry and uneasy after the US agreed to a deal with their regional rival, Shiite-led Iran, to ease international economic sanctions in exchange for curbs on its nuclear program.

The notification to Congress says the potential sales include as many as 72 Boeing F-15 jets to Qatar and as many as 32 of the Chicago-based company's F/A-18 E/F fighters to Kuwait, according to one of the people. Lockheed, based in Bethesda, Maryland, would be able to sell as many as 19 of its F-16s to Bahrain.

Qatar lodged its proposal in July 2013, and Kuwait made its request in April 2015. Bahrain's is more recent.

The aircraft sales could be valued at as much as US$12 billion for the planes, and US$20 billion if spare parts, logistical support and munitions are included, according to Richard Aboulafia, an aerospace analyst for the Teal Group in Fairfax, Virginia.

He underscored that the sales would help keep open assembly lines for older planes, such as the one in St Louis where Boeing builds the F-15, as US purchases shift to Lockheed's new F-35.

"These fourth-generation fighters have far more durability than anybody would have expected," Mr Aboulafia said. "It's a solid win for both Boeing and St Louis. The F-15 could conceivably live to see a half-century."

Boeing was encouraged to finally see the sale progressing, said Scott Day, a company spokesman.

"It's nice to see the further movement on the fighter sales as they are part of the future of F-15, F/A-18 lines." Lockheed spokesman Bill Phelps said in an e-mail that "it would be inappropriate to comment on the details of ongoing government-to-government discussions between the US and Bahrain."

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