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Royal Saudi Air Force F-35

As of 2017 the most significant Saudi air force modernization effort remained unmentioned in public. Saudi Arabia is one of the world's leading military powers. In 2015 Saudi Arabia overtook Russia for third place in military spending, partially due to its engagement in the Yemen conflict and the depreciation of the Russian ruble. The Saudis will covet fifth-generation stealth fighters, the coin of the realm for air combat.

The United States will not sell the F-35 stealth fighter to the Saudis. At some point in the 2020 timeframe, Saudi Arabia will turn to China, which has previously supplied the Suadis with long-range ballistic missiles. China is perfectly willing to sell their J-31 Stealth Fighter, along with no complaints about Saudi human rights practices. China needs Saudi oil, and the Saudis need a major security partner, now that the United States has decided to withdraw from East of Suez.

Initially there were projections that the Saudis might acquire as many as 100 F-35 Joint Strike Fighters. This would have been in line with prior acquisitions of the F-15, even though the Israeli Air Force also operated the F-15. The Israeli F-15s had capabilities that the Saudi F-15s did not, preserving Israels qualitative military edge (QME). The US has no committment to preserve a Saudi qualitative military edge. In late 2015, the Obama Administration made numerous statements that Israel would be the only recipient of the F-35 in the region.

The United States had served as the primary arms provider for Saudi Arabia until Britain supplanted it in 1988. Following the Gulf War, however, the United States again emerged as Saudi Arabias primary arms supplier. In 1998 US military exports to Saudi Arabia totaled US$4.3 billion, making Saudi Arabia the leading importer of US military goods.

When questioned on what the likely effect of British arms sale to the Saudi Arabia would mean to US marketing efforts, US-Saudi relations and the Middle East military balance, Richard Armitage, Assistant Secretary of Defense answered 13 July 1988:

"In my view there are four principal outcomes resulting from the replacement of the U.S. by other suppliers in major arms transactions with moderate, pro-Western Arab states.

  1. Israeli "worst case" contingency planning becomes complicated by the delivery and deployment of advanced systems (aircraft and missiles) over which the United States has no residual control in terms of basing, configuration, and follow-on support,
  2. The United States loses political influence with moderate Arab states when a third party assumes the role of principal supplier of defense equipment,
  3. US contingency planning, based as it is on the necessity of regional friends to take the lead in their own self-defense, becomes complicated by the loss of systems interzperability.
  4. The loss of income and jobs to U.S. industry and American labor is a gratuitous, self-inflicteI wound which has absolutely no compensatory aspects."

Experience demonstrated time and again that when the US. is unable to respond, other governments are more than ready and able to do so-whether it be with British Tornado fighter bombers, which Saudi Arabia bought when it could not get additional US F-15 fighters, even without ground attack capability, or the Soviet handheld SA-7 and SA-l4 antiaircraft missiles supplied to certain Gulf states when the US was unwilling to provide portable antiaircraft weapons, such as the Stinger.

If the Saudi government asked to buy the F-35, the question facing the US would not be whether the Saudis would acquire such weapons systems, but from which country they would buy it, and which country would have a dominant position in the Saudi military planning for several decades. While the American technology is superior, the US does not have a monopoly on high technology. Both China and Russia would be eager to take the place of the US as the principal supplier to the Saudi military, a position that had already been seriously eroded in the past decades.






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