Special Joint Press Briefing On U.S. Arms Sales to Saudi Arabia
Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Political-Military Affairs
MS. NULAND: Good afternoon, everybody. Before we do our regular daily briefing, we have a special briefing today on U.S. arms sales to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. With us today, we have Assistant Secretary of State for Political-Military Affairs Andrew Shapiro, and we have Principal Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Policy James Miller.
So without further ado, Assistant Secretary Shapiro.
QUESTION: Can we attribute the on-time nature of this briefing to the fact that someone from the Pentagon is here? (Laughter.)
MS. NULAND: Absolutely. We have military discipline – (laughter).
ASSISTANT SECRETARY SHAPIRO: Well, thank you everyone for coming this afternoon. And as Toria mentioned, I’m joined by Principal Deputy Under Secretary of Defense Dr. Jim Miller.
As you may recall, in October 2010, I officially announced the Administration’s plan to sell to Saudi Arabia a significant defense package that would include advanced F-15 fighter aircraft and helicopters. We are pleased to announce that over this past weekend, the United States and Saudi Arabia signed a letter of offer and acceptance for the sale of up to 84 advanced F-15SA fighter aircraft. It also includes upgrades to its current fleet of 70 F-15 aircraft, as well as munitions, spare parts, training, maintenance, and logistics.
This sale is worth $29.4 billion. These F-15SA aircraft, manufactured by the Boeing company, will be among the most sophisticated and capable aircraft in the world. This agreement serves to reinforce the strong and enduring relationship between the United States and Saudi Arabia. It demonstrates the U.S. commitment to a strong Saudi defense capability as a key component to regional security.
Since announcing in June – in 2010 our intent to conclude this sale, the Departments of State and Defense have worked closely with the Saudi Government and industry to finalize the particulars of the deal. Jim and I both recently made separate trips to Saudi Arabia, in part to discuss the sale.
Let me outline a few of the reasons why this defense package is so important and historic, and how it will advance U.S. national interests. This sale will send a strong message to countries in the region that the United States is committed to stability in the Gulf and broader Middle East. It will enhance Saudi Arabia’s ability to deter and defend against external threats to its sovereignty. It will advance interoperability between the air forces of our two countries through joint training and exercises. And lastly, this agreement will positively impact the U.S. economy and further advance the President’s commitment to create jobs by increasing exports. According to industry experts, this agreement will support more than 50,000 American jobs. It will engage 600 suppliers in 44 states and provide $3.5 billion in annual economic impact to the U.S. economy. This will support jobs not only in the aerospace sector but also in our manufacturing base and support chain, which are all crucial for sustaining our national defense.
I also wanted to note that this sale was carefully assessed under the U.S. Government’s Conventional Arms Transfer Policy. This policy requires such sales be deemed in the national security interests of the United States, are consistent with the country’s legitimate security needs, and support U.S. regional security objectives. With this agreement, the United States and Saudi Arabia have accomplished a historic achievement in our longstanding security partnership, a partnership that furthers security and stability in the Gulf region. Our longstanding security relationship with Saudi Arabia and other partners in the region has been a primary pillar of regional security for decades. And this sale further illustrates the firm commitment of the United States to the security and stability of the Gulf region.
I’ll now turn it over to Jim Miller, who has more to say on the details of the sales package and how it advances U.S.-Saudi military-to-military interests. After that, Jim and I will be happy to take your questions.
MR. MILLER: Thank you, Andrew. And good afternoon and happy holidays to everybody.
Let me start by reiterating that the United States is firmly committed to the security of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, as we have been for nearly seven decades, and that more broadly, the United States and Saudi Arabia have a strong mutual interest in the security and stability of the Gulf. Close cooperation between our militaries is central to that security and stability, and we are really announcing today the most recent example of that cooperation.
On December 24th in Riyadh, the United States and Saudi Arabia finalized the letter of offer and acceptance, or LOA, for the purchase of 84 F-15SA aircraft and, as Andrew said, for the upgrade of an additional 70 F-15SA aircraft to this SA configuration. And this government-to-government or foreign military sale is valued at $29.4 billion.
I’d like to say just a few words about the capabilities that are under consideration. This aircraft, the F-15SA, will be the most capable and versatile aircraft in the Royal Saudi fighter inventory. And indeed, it will be one of the most capable aircraft in the world. The F-15SA will have the latest generation of computing power, radar technology, infrared censors, and electronic warfare systems. As one example, the F-15SA will be equipped with an active electronically-scanned array radar, or AESA. This radar includes the latest technology and will ensure that Saudi Arabia has the capability to operate against regional air threats. This sale also includes AMRAAM and AIM-9X air-to-air missiles, which provide both radar and infrared guided capability. The F-15SA will be able to strike targets day or night in all weather with a variety of precision-guided munitions. The air-to-ground weapon capability includes laser-guided and GPS-guided weapons, along with missiles that can attack ground-based radars and missiles – the Harpoon in particular specialized for maritime attack capabilities.
The communications systems of the F-15SA will allow the U.S. Air Force and Royal Saudi Air Force to operate effectively together in the same airspace. And the system’s interoperability will also allow both countries to – excuse me – to participate in coalition training, which is a priority for both of our countries. And in fact, this F-15SA package includes not just aircraft and munitions but the training and logistics support that Andrew talked about, and it’s a very robust package. Much of the Saudi training in the F-15SA will occur alongside U.S. forces. This will enhance our already strong defense relationship. And approximately 5,500 Saudi personnel will be trained through 2019 – 5,500 through 2019, further strengthening the bonds between our forces and between our countries.
I’ve provided just a very high-level overview of the F-15SA’s impressive capabilities, and I know that the Air Force and the Boeing company will be glad to offer a lot more details. As Andrew said, the U.S.-Saudi security relationship has been a pillar of regional security for decades. And this F-15SA sale demonstrates the firm commitment of the United States to the kingdom, and reinforces our mutual commitment to security and stability in the Gulf.
And with that, Andrew and I would be pleased to take your questions.
QUESTION: Yeah. So, Andrew, you said that it sends a strong message – this sends a strong message to countries in the region the U.S. is committed to security. You didn’t mention any – I presume you mean both friends and foes. I’d like to talk – ask you about two countries that are not mentioned, both of which begin with “I”, Israel and Iran.
One, on Israel, how did – how easy was it to overcome any sensitivity that they might have about this sale? Does it affect their advantage that you seek to preserve? And then, on Iran, you didn’t mention it, but presumably that is the biggest threat to the Saudis in the region. Is that your thinking? Do these planes come equipped with, like, a map leading to Iran and have Israel, like, blacked out? What’s the thinking – what’s the specific message to Iran that the sale sent?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY SHAPIRO: Well, I’ll let Jim talk about what maps are equipped on the aircraft. But on the Israel point, let me just say that by law, all sales to the region must be evaluated for the impact on Israel’s qualitative military edge. We conducted that assessment, as I mentioned during the congressional briefing – during the briefing last year to discuss the congressional notification. We conducted that assessment, and we are satisfied that this sale to Saudi Arabia will not decrement Israel’s qualitative military edge.
As far as regional threats, aircraft are a platform that lasts for decades. So they’re designed to address both current security threats as well as threats that may emerge down the road as well. So these aircraft will be delivered over the coming years and are a long-term commitment of the United States to Saudi Arabia’s security.
QUESTION: So I can’t get you to use the word Iran? It’s only four letters.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY SHAPIRO: (Laughter.) As I mentioned, it’s designed to allow Saudi Arabia to address threats to its sovereignty, and we believe this aircraft is able to provide that capability (inaudible).
QUESTION: But where do you see that threat coming from right now at this specific moment in time.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY SHAPIRO: Well, as you know, the Middle East right now, there’s a number of threats. They’ve had border security issues. They have threats in the Gulf as well. And clearly, one of the threats that they face as well as other countries in the region is Iran. But it is not – this is not solely directed towards Iran. This is directed towards meeting our partner Saudi Arabia’s defense needs.
MS. NULAND: Jim, anything to add?
MR. MILLER: I think Andrew covered it very well.
MS. NULAND: Welcome to the State Department briefing room. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: Just the same question, but a little bit differently. The timing of this. Obviously, you said the deal was struck, I think, December 24th. Today is a day where there’s a lot of news about this standoff with Iran, the Strait of Hormuz. Can you definitively say that there’s no connection even in the announcement today?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY SHAPIRO: Well, we’ve been – I’ll be perfectly honest. We’ve been planning this announcement since the deal was struck, before the latest tensions in the Straits of Hormuz, and so – and this deal was – first, we’ve been talking with the Saudis about how to provide for their air power needs for a number of years. And as I noted, I announced this congressional notification of this package last year. So we did not gin up a package in response to current events in the region, but this is part of a longstanding discussion with our Saudi partners about how to best meet their needs, and we are announcing it because the LOA was signed on Christmas Eve, which wouldn’t have been the right time to announce it.
MS. NULAND: Let’s go here. One more Pentagon, yes.
QUESTION: Amy Butler from Aviation Week. I’m curious if you can say for us, did they decide to go with a GE engine or did they go with a Pratt engine? Also, what is the delivery timeline? And has Saudi Arabia expressed any interest in some of the add-ons that Boeing has proposed that add potential internal weapons carrying stealthy characteristics for the future for their fighter fleet?
MR. MILLER: Let me take the question about delivery first. We expect the first delivery of the F-15SA of the new aircraft in early 2015 and expect the upgrades of the F-15S to the SA configuration to start in 2014. That’s the expectation now. Of course, schedules are as schedules are.
With respect to the internal capability of the aircraft, it has very substantial capabilities. I’ll give you just a little bit more in terms of the – I mentioned the – some of the munitions – the HARM anti-radiation missile that goes against radars for precision strike capabilities. We’ve got the Joint Direct Attack Munition, JADM; also the Paveway, which has an analogous capability, the Harpoon anti-ship missile; a very capable system called the Sensor Fuzed Weapon; and for the Defense people in the room, with the Wind Corrected Munitions Dispenser, which is just an incredibly capable system against moving vehicles; and of course air-to-air AMRAAM and AIM-9X capabilities as well. So very significant capabilities.
There’s always the possibility that the Saudis would ask for more. This provides them everything that they asked for in their letter of request, and I know we have ongoing discussions that – where something else could be provided in the future.
QUESTION: Okay. And then on the engine, did they go with the GE or the Pratt?
MR. MILLER: I would like to defer that to the Boeing Company.
QUESTION: Oh. Okay.
MR. MILLER: Yeah. Please.
MS. NULAND: Please.
QUESTION: I wanted to ask you about any conditions were put on this sale considering Saudi Arabia is an important member of the GCC countries, considering the situation that happened in Bahrain recently, whether this use can also be applied to other countries that Saudi Arabia is part of or this purely for the use of Saudi Arabia just in case for its own defense?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY SHAPIRO: This was a sale to Saudi Arabia, and it is designed for Saudi defense needs. That being said, we are interested in working with all the Gulf nations in developing a regional security architecture that will enable them to meet the challenges and threats posed in the region. However, this is a sale to Saudi Arabia that will be used by the Saudi air force in order to defend its sovereignty and borders.
QUESTION: Well, I think the question, though, is related to the fact that the Saudis, as part of the GCC, sent people into Bahrain to put down – so I think her question is: Are there restrictions on this so that the Saudis can’t kind of, I don’t know, loan them out or send them for use against protestors in allies of Saudi?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY SHAPIRO: Under U.S. law and regulation, any attempt to transfer weapons to any other country requires our approval. So they have – and they – since they’ve not obtained these aircraft yet, there has been no such request made. And indeed, if they wanted to transfer these aircraft to any other Gulf partner, they would need our approval to do so.
QUESTION: No, but I don’t think it’s a question of transferring; it’s a question of if Bahrain, as part of the GCC, or some other country as part of the GCC, requests assistance and that assistance would include – I don’t know; this is obviously very hypothetical – but would include Saudis sending planes to Bahrain, not transferring them to the Bahrainis but using them in Bahrain, are there any restrictions like that?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY SHAPIRO: I’m not going to get into highly speculative, hypothetical – particularly when these aircraft are not going to be delivered for – until at least 2015, as Jim said. But at the – our common understanding with the Saudis is that these aircraft are to help with their security needs and to protect their sovereignty.
QUESTION: Was there anything in the Saudi request that wasn’t granted in the --
ASSISTANT SECRETARY SHAPIRO: Well, as Jim mentioned, there was a letter of request, and all that was in the letter of request was met in the letter of acceptance.
QUESTION: Are these planes more sophisticated than the planes you are going to send to Iraq?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY SHAPIRO: I’ll let Jim take that one.
MR. MILLER: As you know, we’re looking to sell F-16s to Iraq, different set of capabilities. The F-15SA is a terrific capability that includes some of the best attributes of the F-15s that we have in our inventory and some things, including these – this radar that really go beyond what we’ve had for ourselves to date, and we’ll be looking to bring analogous capabilities in for ourselves.
Really different missions, different focus for the F-16 and – F-15 and F-16. I wouldn’t compare them. We’re looking to provide a very significant capability with the F-16s to Iraq as well with a very heavy focus on air-to-air capabilities in that case.
MS. NULAND: Just looking to see if any of our other Pentagon guests – another one here.
QUESTION: I’m just curious, was there any sort of a work share offset? Is Saudi going to be doing any of the work in country?
MR. MILLER: That’s a topic that is not government-to-government but, as you know, is between the company – between Boeing Company and the Saudi Government. And as you probably also know, it’s standard to have something in that regard. I would, again, rather than speaking to it, defer that over to the Boeing Company to answer.
MS. NULAND: And the last one, Goyal.
QUESTION: Thank you very much. Quick one, two: One, if you had informed Israel in advance and what is the reaction from them? And second, did you see any immediate threat in the region against Saudi Arabia that you had to take such a dramatic action now – I mean by Saudi Arabia and by the U.S. to have these sales?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY SHAPIRO: I --
QUESTION: Because – sorry – Saudi had been peaceful ever since kingdom, no demonstrations, no problems of any kind.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY SHAPIRO: On your first question, I’m not going to get into private diplomatic discussions with Israel other than to again note that our evaluation is that this sale will not have an impact on Israel’s qualitative military edge.
On your second, again, the timing of this – this has been long in the making. Discussions over providing aircraft for the Saudi air force have taken place over a number of years. We announced the congressional notifications package last year in 2010. And we’ve negotiated the agreement over the past year, and it was signed on Christmas Eve.
QUESTION: Just one quick?
QUESTION: Thank you, sir.
MS. NULAND: Okay. One quick one here and then (inaudible).
QUESTION: How the payment is going to be?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY SHAPIRO: I’m sorry?
QUESTION: Payment on the – is there a timeline as to --
MR. MILLER: Under the foreign military sales, this will be analogous to many others that we’ve done. There is a payment schedule. The first payment will be due in the coming weeks and months, and they will – the payments will occur over a period of a number of years.
QUESTION: When – you mentioned the first delivery is in early 2015. When is it completed? When is the – when do the last planes get there, or the last upgrades finish arriving?
MR. MILLER: It will be several years after that.
QUESTION: So five, ten? I mean, how many – how – we’re talking – the reason I’m asking is that because it goes without – I think it goes without saying, but I want you to say it anyway, that this is a sign or an indication that you have faith in the stability of the Saudi monarchy and think that it’s going to be around for at least a little while longer.
MR. MILLER: Look, this is – we have a nearly seven-decade-strong relationship and partnership with the Saudi Government.
QUESTION: Yeah, but as you know --
MR. MILLER: We expect it to continue for the long term.
QUESTION: So – yeah, so you have faith in the stability of the Saudi monarchy --
MS. NULAND: I think he’s answered that question.
QUESTION: -- long --
MS. NULAND: -Thanks, guys, very much.
QUESTION: Well, I still am waiting for how long – how many years does it take for this deal to be completed.
MR. MILLER: The – there are various – there’s various elements of it. We’ve got the aircraft themselves that will be over a period of several years after the initial delivery. We’ve got the training that will occur – that will start sooner and that will occur over a period of – I believe it’s 10-plus years, and so that it’s something that is a sustained effort and shows sustained commitment between the U.S. and Saudi Governments, and both for Saudi security and U.S.-Saudi relations, and for promotion of regional --
QUESTION: So is there no real end date for when the – all the planes are delivered?
MR. MILLER: There is a target date. It’ll be several years after the – 2015. I’ll give you --
QUESTION: Several is how many?
MR. MILLER: I’ll give you a precise answer.
QUESTION: Perhaps we should ask it this way: For how long do you expect for this deal to sustain and support those 50,000 jobs you touted?
MR. MILLER: Round numbers, a decade-plus.
MS. NULAND: Okay. Thanks, guys, very much.
QUESTION: Thank you.
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