The Obama administration is set to notify Congress of plans to offer advanced aircraft to Saudi Arabia worth up to $60 billion, the largest U.S. arms deal ever, and is in talks with the kingdom about potential naval and missile-defense upgrades that could be worth tens of billions of dollars more.
The administration plans to tout the $60 billion package as a major job creator—supporting at least 75,000 jobs, according to company estimates—and sees the sale of advanced fighter jets and military helicopters to key Middle Eastern ally Riyadh as part of a broader policy aimed at shoring up Arab allies against Iran.
The talks between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia have been widely known for months, but many new details are only now coming into focus. These include the number and type of aircraft involved, how much the Saudis intend to spend in an initial installment, and the ongoing negotiations to also upgrade the kingdom's navy and missile defenses.
The $60 billion in fighter jets and helicopters is the top-line amount requested by the Saudis, even though the kingdom is likely to commit initially to buying only about half that amount.
In a notification to Congress, expected to be submitted this week or next, the administration will authorize the Saudis to buy as many as 84 new F-15 fighters, upgrade 70 more, and purchase three types of helicopters—70 Apaches, 72 Black Hawks and 36 Little Birds, officials said.
The notification triggers a congressional review. Lawmakers could push for changes or seek to impose conditions, and potentially block the deal, though that is not expected.
On top of the $60 billion package of fighter jets and helicopters, U.S. officials are discussing a potential $30 billion package to upgrade Saudi Arabia's naval forces. An official described these as "discreet, bilateral conversations" in which no agreement has yet been reached. That deal could include littoral combat ships, surface vessels intended for operations close to shore, the official said.