Though Saudi Arabia’s buy of F-15SAs from Boeing gives the company’s St. Louis production line much-needed work, the company’s hopes of selling a semi-stealthy version of the F-15 abroad continue to dim.
The Obama administration hailed the deal Dec. 29 as providing $3.5 billion in annual impact to the U.S. economy and “supporting” 50,000 jobs in the aerospace industry, as well as the manufacturing sector writ large. However, some of the modification work of older F-15s and structural subassembly fabrication will be handled in Saudi Arabia through the Alsalam Aircraft Company.
The fighter sale is welcome for Boeing, which had already begun work on the aircraft in hopes that a deal would get signed for Saudi Arabia or for more orders from South Korea. With Japan’s recent announcement selecting the F-35A over the Typhoon or Boeing F-18 Super Hornet, it is unlikely Boeing will get an additional sale to Seoul, which is thought to be eager to follow Tokyo’s lead. And, as hope of selling to South Korea wanes, so does the prospect for a buyer of the so-called Silent Eagle variant unveiled by Boeing in March 2009. This kit includes internal weapons bays using a conformal fuel tank design and 15-deg. canted V-tails. South Korea and Israel were potential customers; Israel has already selected the F-35 for its new fighters. Boeing executives say they will await Seoul’s formal request for proposal, however, to see if the Silent Eagle is a contender.
Boeing’s deliveries of F-15SGs to the Royal Singapore Air Force and F-15Ks to South Korea conclude in the third quarter of 2012. Production rate has been one aircraft per month, which can be accelerated if required for Saudi Arabia. A forthcoming definitized contract will spell out the timing.
The U.S. and Saudi Arabia finally signed the new F-15SA deal, announced in October 2010, on Dec. 24 in Riyadh, says Andrew Shapiro, assistant secretary of state for political-military affairs. Though he declined to single out Iran as a regional troublemaker, Shapiro did acknowledge that Tehran is one area to which the sale “sends a strong message … that the U.S. is committed to stability in the Gulf and broader Middle East.”
Included are 84 new F-15SA aircraft from Boeing as well as the refurbishment of 70 F-15Ss to the SA configuration (Aerospace DAILY, Oct. 21, 2010).
The deal with Saudi Arabia includes Raytheon advanced, electronically scanned array (AESA) radars for the F-15s, plus 10 Goodrich DB-110s, an internationally marketable version of the Senior-Year Electro-Optical Reconnaissance System flying on the U-2, and an infrared search-and-track capability. Sniper and Lantirn targeting and navigation pods are also part of the package, along with Digital Electronic Warfare System.
The weapons package features AIM 120C7s, the AIM-9X Sidewinder for air-to-air engagements. Also included are 500-lb. dual-mode laser-guided munitions, 2,000-lb. Paveway III laser-guided bombs and Sensor-fuzed Weapons including the Wind-corrected Munitions Dispensers and 2,000 lb. Joint Direct Attack Munitions for hitting ground targets. The AGM-84 Harpoon Block II, which does not include the Block III data link package for in-flight retargeting, is built-in for engagement of ships and the Saudis are also buying the AGM-88B High-Speed Anti-Radiation Missile.
The F-15 sale is part of a roughly $60 billion weapons request from Saudi Arabia that was long rumored before it was detailed, and it includes another $25.6 billion worth of helicopters and associated equipment: 36 AH-64D Apaches, 72 UH-60Ms, 36 AH-6i Light Attack Helicopters and 12 MD Helicopters MD-530Fs. These orders are still pending approval, according to a defense official. Already, Saudi Arabia has signed a letter of agreement for 36 Apaches.