US air force official urges Washington to move forward on delayed Gulf fighter jet sales

Heidi Grant said she was trying to reassure officials in Qatar, Kuwait and Bahrain that Washington’s failure to approve billions of dollars of arms sales to them would not alter existing strong bilateral air force-to-air force relationships.
Emirati citizens walk past US made F-15 Eagle fighter jet at the Dubai Airshow on November 18, 2013. Karim Sahib/AFP Photo
Emirati citizens walk past US made F-15 Eagle fighter jet at the Dubai Airshow on November 18, 2013. Karim Sahib/AFP Photo

FARNBOROUGH, UK // A senior US air force official on Sunday urged her government to speed up its consideration of long-standing bids by Qatar, Kuwait and Bahrain to buy US fighter jets, citing growing frustration among the key Gulf allies about delays in the process.

Air force deputy undersecretary Heidi Grant said she was trying to reassure officials in those countries that Washington’s failure to approve billions of dollars of US arms sales to them would not alter the strong bilateral air force-to-air force relationships that exist.

“I would like to see a decision soon,” Ms Grant said on the eve of the Farnborough Airshow in southern England, adding that she “absolutely” saw growing frustration among officials in the three countries.

“It’s caused us to do more to reassure them that this one transaction should not impact the larger relationship ... that they are very valued partners,” Ms Grant said. “Hopefully the delay in this decision to move forward isn’t going to have any impact.”

Ms Grant said the three requests were still being worked on “at the highest levels of our government”. She declined to comment on what was holding up the decisions.

All three arms sales have stalled amid concerns raised by Israel that equipment sent to Gulf states could fall into the wrong hands and be used against it, and by the Obama administration’s desire to integrate arms sales into its broader decision-making on military aid to the Gulf.

The Pentagon and state department have both have signed off on the sale of 36 F-15 fighter jets to Qatar and 24 F/A-18E/F Super Hornets to Kuwait, both built by Boeing Co, as well as about 16 Lockheed Martin Corp F-16 fighter jets to Bahrain.

The sale to Kuwait is worth about US$3 billion (Dh11bn) and the one to Qatar is probably close to $4bn, according to sources familiar with the matter. The value of the Bahrain deal was not immediately available.

Leanne Caret, chief executive of Boeing Defence, Space & Security, said the approval process was clearly taking longer than the company would like, but Boeing’s Middle East customers were “hanging in there with us” despite the delays.

“I believe we have a bright future on it, and we look forward to resolving it soon,” she said.

Ms Grant joins other senior military officials and lawmakers who have weighed in in recent months to urge the White House to move forward on the arms sales requests, some of which have been in the works for years.

US navy secretary Ray Mabus last month warned that the navy could see the cost of new F/A-18E/F Super Hornets rise unless the government approves foreign sales of the jets soon.

Mr Mabus said he was frustrated by delays in approving the sale of the Boeing jets to a close US ally.

* Reuters

Published: July 11, 2016 04:00 AM

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