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Gulf states eye new combat jets

Oct. 19, 2010 at 1:55 PM   |   Comments

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia, Oct. 19 (UPI) -- As the U.S. Congress mulls the administration's plans to sell Saudi Arabia advanced F-15S strike jets and other weapons worth some $60 billion, Riyadh's Persian Gulf partners are also looking at new combat aircraft to counter Iran.

Kuwait has expressed an interest in becoming one of the first operators of the Boeing F-15SE Silent Eagle, Jane's Defense Weekly says.

The emirate has no F-15s in its combat aircraft inventory, which consists of two squadrons of Boeing F/A-18C/D Hornets, a total of 39 aircraft.

Jane's says that any Kuwaiti acquisition of F-15s would augment its existing combat force, which may soon be upgraded, rather than replace the old jets.

The F-15 would provide a longer-range attack capability with heavier weapons, such as the air-to-ground AGM-164 Joint Standoff Weapon manufactured by Raytheon/Texas Instruments.

That seems to be a prime consideration in the gulf Arab states' current procurement strategies for countering Iranian military power.

This is concentrated primarily in Iran's growing missile arsenal, which is capable of launching large numbers of projectiles across the gulf at key oil installations of the Arab states and U.S. bases along the western shore.

"Kuwaiti interest in the Silent Eagle may indicate that long-held plans to acquire the French Dassault Rafale have finally been abandoned," JDW observed.

Discussions with France for 14-28 Rafales began in February 2008, but there has been parliamentary opposition to such a purchase on technical grounds and it remains unclear whether the emirate is still interested in the multi-purpose jet.

Rafales completed 15 hours of flight testing in Kuwaiti air space in mid-July but defense officials there said another 20 hours were required before decision could be made.

Bolstering Kuwait's apparent drive for long-range air capability are reported plans to acquire aerial tankers for in-flight refueling, considerably extending the range of strike aircraft.

Only Saudi Arabia possesses a tanker fleet among the six members of the Gulf Cooperation Council, which also groups Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Oman and Bahrain.

In May, Kuwait signed a $245 million Foreign Military Sales deal with Washington for the delivery of three Lockheed Martin KC-130J tanker aircraft by late 2013.

JDW reported that on July 15 the U.S. Defense Security Cooperation Agency notified Congress of the possible sale of eight KC-130 tankers to Kuwait for an estimated $1.8 billion.

The sultanate of Oman, strategically located on the western shore of the chokepoint Strait of Hormuz at the southern end of the Persian Gulf, is reported to be seeking either a new batch of Lockheed Martin F-16C/D Fighting Falcons or the Eurofighter Typhoon. Oman currently has 12 F-16C/Ds.

Jane's reported in August that British efforts to sell the sultanate 24 Typhoons for an estimated $2.3 billion appeared to be in doubt following the DSCA notification of the pending $3.5 billion sale of 18 multirole F-16C/D Block 50/52 jets.

However, BAE Systems, which is part of the European consortium that builds the Typhoon, says that Oman may buy both aircraft, although it isn't clear in what numbers.

The Typhoons on offer would likely come from 24 surplus Tranche 1 Block 5 Typhoons with the British air force. That would allow the British government to reduce its Typhoon inventory under planned defense cutbacks.

All told, the GCC states are expected to spend some $120 billion on weapons procurement over the next few years to bolster defense capabilities to counter Iran.

But there are doubts about whether such massive expenditure is warranted since the GCC states have failed to forge close military coordination and cooperation despite decades of declaring a common defense policy to be a key objective.

These Arab states have traditionally depended on the United States, and to a lesser extent Britain and France, to come to their defense, as they did in 1990-91 after Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait.

Centuries-old tribal rivalries between the gulf's ruling families have been a serious obstacle to unified GCC policies.

There is a gulf-wide rapid deployment defense force known as Peninsula Shield but it numbers only a few thousand men and is under Saudi control.

Plans for a unified missile defense shield and command-and-control center have failed to materialize.

© 2010 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI's prior written consent.
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