U.S. eyes arms package for allies in Mideast

Posted Friday, Apr. 19, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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WASHINGTON -- The Obama administration plans to announce an arms package to Israel, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates worth up to $10 billion that will be the centerpiece of Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel's visit to the countries next week, according to U.S. officials.

The arms sold to Israel will include an unspecified number of V-22 Osprey tiltrotor transport aircraft, air defense radar and KC-135 refueling tankers. The United Arab Emirates will probably buy 26 F-16s. And the Persian Gulf nation, as well as Saudi Arabia, will buy precision missiles, said the official, who provided details on the condition of anonymity.

If the transaction goes through, it will be the first foreign sale of the V-22 tiltrotor made by Fort Worth-based Bell Helicopter and Boeing. The United Arab Emirates already has 80 Fort Worth-made F-16s, bought from Lockheed Martin in the late 1990s.

The missiles being discussed include an unspecified number of the U.S. advanced anti-radiation guided missile, a new weapon being bought by the U.S. Navy, the official said. The missile, made by Alliant Techsystems, is capable of attacking ground radar used by countries fielding sophisticated integrated air defenses, such as Syria and Iran.

The move to beef up the capabilities of allies in the Middle East began when President Barack Obama asked then-Defense Secretary Leon Panetta to examine ways to boost Israel's military edge in light of potential threats in the region, three U.S. defense officials told reporters Friday at a briefing.

The United States suspects Iran of developing nuclear weapons and is concerned that the Syrian regime, led by President Bashar Assad, may use chemical weapons.

Following Obama's direction, Panetta held a series of meetings with then-Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak on weapons the country would need, the three officials said. Bilateral discussions with Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates were held over the last nine months, the officials said.

Plans for the arms package to Middle East allies comes as Hagel prepares his first trip to the region since taking his post in February. The weapons sales will be a centerpiece of the visit.

Hagel will discuss and draw up a final list of items for each country, one U.S. defense official said. That will be followed by formal "letters of request" from the buyers and negotiations on price and availability.

After that process, which could take months, State Department and Pentagon officials would notify Congress for formal approval.

Those notifications often take the form of a 20-day informal period, followed by a formal 30-day period when the Pentagon discloses in a public notice the potential equipment, quantities and prices.

Reports that the United Arab Emirates was considering buying more F-16s went public in 2011.

The additional orders would further extend the life of the F-16 production line in Fort Worth, which has been winding down as foreign orders are completed.

The V-22 Osprey is built at Bell's plant in Amarillo, with many parts made in the Fort Worth area.

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