Saudis made a $100 million US buy to upgrade its air force

The World
Saudi F-15

An F-15 Eagle aircraft of the Royal Saudi air force takes off during Operation Desert Shield.

WikiCommons/Tech. Sgt. Hans Deffner

Saudi Arabia has ordered more than $100 million more in US weapons and defense services, underscoring its commitment to military spending even in a time of depressed oil revenues.

Late Friday, the US Department of Defense announced a $71,475,750 contract for a Maryland firm to modify two King Air 350 extended range surveillance planes for the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. The contract  includes installation of “intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance/synthetic aperture radar (ISR/SAR) capability, one transportable ground station, one fixed ground station and one mission system trainer.” 

Saudi Arabia is currently leading a coalition of Arab countries bombing its southern neighbor, Yemen. The air campaign is intended to weaken a rebel group that has taken over much of Yemen. The United Nations calculates that the majority of the more than 3,000 civilians killed in the war since March 26, 2015 have been victims of Saudi air strikes.

A second defense contract, announced in the same Pentagon press release, goes to a company in the Saudi capital, Riyadh.

Al-Salam Aircraft Co. will receive up to $32,500,000 “for services required for the teardown and assessment of three F-15 aircraft and the conversion and repair of one F-15S aircraft to the F-15SA configuration.” The Royal Saudi Air Force has been flying its US-made F-15 fighter jets with great frequency over the past year, mostly in the Yemen war, but also in Syria against ISIS forces.

The Friday press release does not explain why the Pentagon is brokering a contract between the Saudi government and a Saudi contractor. Media staff at the Pentagon and the US Air Force would not comment on the contract in phone calls made during the hour that followed the announcement.