F-15 deal improves chances for Saudi training squadron at Mountain Home AFB
The United States and Saudi Arabia have reached agreement on a $30 billion sale of F-15 fighter jets to the desert kingdom, an action that could accelerate efforts to locate a Saudi Arabian training squadron at Mountain Home AFB -- although that portion of the deal has not been finalized, yet.
The deal announced Thursday is part of an overall $60 billion arms package and involves the sale of 84 new F-15SA jets and upgrades for 70 existing F-15s already flown by the Royal Saudi Air Force, as well as munitions, spare parts, training, maintenance and logistics.
It's the training portion of the deal that could impact Mountain Home Air Force Base.
The deal does not, explicitly, call for establishment of a Saudi F-15 training squadron at Mountain Home AFB, but part of the overall arms deal package includes basing a training squadron in the United States, primarily to train Saudi maintainers on the aircraft. In the past, the Saudi government has contracted for a large part of its fighter jet maintenance but wants to develop a home-grown capability.
Mountain Home Air Force Base is considered the leading contender to become the home of the Saudi training squadron, which would join another foreign national training squadron from the Republic of Singapore that also uses the base for training purposes.
"In December 2010, the Air Force validated Mountain Home Air Force Base, Idaho, as the 'preferred alternative' for the U.S. based training after a request by Saudi officials to locate the potential mission at the base," Col. Ron Buckley, commander of the 366th Fighter Wing at Mountain Home Air Force Base said.
"The Air Force will make the final decision after completion of the environmental impact analysis process required by the National Environmental Policy Act. If Saudi officials decide to pursue MHAFB as a training base, the initial commitment would begin in 2014 and last through 2019.
"At this point it is too early to know if or when the signing of the letter of acceptance will affect MHAFB," Buckley said.
"We are excited at the prospect of hosting another international partner here. For now, we will continue to build the exceptional relationship we have with the Republic of Singapore Air Force as we prepare together for the possibility of the Saudis becoming part of the Gunfighter community."
An Environmental Assessment (EA) of the base's capabilities to handle the Saudi squadron will soon be launched. It is expected that Mountain Home Air Force Base officially will be listed as the preferred alternative in the initial EA description.
The assessment will be funded by the Saudi government, which has shown a strong interest in the base and has sent several observer teams to analyze the base's ability to handle the training squadron.
Standard procedures would then call for a Record of Decision to be issued after completion of the full EA process. Most observers believe that could be completed no later than some time in the late spring, since much of the EA work already has been done for studies on possibly basing F-22 and F-35 aircraft at the base..
Previous reports and statements have indicated that if Mountain Home AFB is selected to be the home of the Saudi training squadron, a minimum of $50 million in infrastructure improvements to handle the Saudi aircraft and crews is expected to be spent by the Saudi Arabian government.
An estimated 50 or more permanent personnel from Saudi Arabia, plus a roughly similar number of contractors would be assigned to the base, and an estimated 300 Saudi personnel would be temporarily assigned there at any one time.
Initial negotiations had indicated the deal would be for five years, with options to renew.
According to the official White House statement on the deal, "This agreement will positively impact the U.S. economy and further advances the president's commitment to create jobs by increasing exports. According to industry experts, this agreement will support more than 50,000 American jobs, engaging 600 suppliers in 44 states, and providing $3.5 billion in annual economic impact to the U.S. economy.
"This agreement reinforces the strong and enduring relationship between the United States and Saudi Arabia, and demonstrates the U.S. commitment to a strong Saudi defense capability as a key component to regional security."
Regional security issues were highlighted this week by aggressive statements from Iran concerning threats to block the Straits of Hormuz if the U.S. and its allies in Europe proceed with economic sanctions over Iran's nuclear program.
Iran sees the United States and Saudi Arabia as two of its most important threats to hegemony in the region. Its "black ops" Qod force was recently accused of arranging to attempt to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to the United States.