US fighter sales soar in time for Obama’s campaign

Wednesday, 4 January 2012 00:02 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

WASHINGTON: Booming Middle East purchases of U.S. fighter jets will be a bright spot in what is expected to be a sluggish U.S. economy in 2012, possibly paying dividends for President Barack Obama’s bid for a second term.

Beneficiaries include Lockheed Martin Corp andBoeing Co, whose respective F-16 and F-15 production lines are being extended by U.S. government sales to Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Oman, among other rich arms deals announced in recent weeks. The foreign sales will help offset expected cuts in big-ticket purchases by the U.S. Defense Department, which is set to lose at least $450 billion in previously projected funding through 2021 as part of a U.S. deficit-reduction push. Additional cuts totaling another $500 billion to $600 billion over the same period are scheduled to kick in next year unless a new deficit-reduction plan is adopted by Congress.

The sales of fighters, missiles and other advanced U.S. weapons will help provide jobs as the United States heads into an election campaign expected to focus on the domestic economy. It has been growing at only half the pace needed to get the jobless rate down from 8.6 percent, a problem for Obama as the incumbent.

The Obama administration announced last week it had finalized a record $29.4 billion Boeing F-15 sale to Saudi Arabia, dwarfing previous individual U.S. arms deals and supporting jobs by increasing exports.

Deliveries of 84 of the most advanced F-15 fighters are expected to start in 2015 with upgrades to 70 others expected to start in 2014, the administration said. Congress had cleared the sale in the fall of 2010, setting the stage for the freshly completed negotiatons on the government-to-government contract.

Josh Earnest, a White House spokesman, portrayed the deal as shoring up Saudi air defenses in a region rattled by Iran’s disputed nuclear program as well as supporting more than 50,000 U.S. jobs at a time of high unemployment.  The deal was signed Dec. 24 and unveiled by the White House on Thursday in Hawaii, where Obama has been vacationing.

The program involves roughly 600 suppliers in 44 of the 50 U.S. states and give the economy a $3.5 billion annual boost, Assistant Secretary of State for Political-Military Affairs Andrew Shapiro told reporters at a State Department briefing.

“This will support jobs not only in the aerospace sector but also in our manufacturing base and support chain, which are all crucial for sustaining our national defense,” he said.

The deal is worth about three times more than any other single U.S. arms sale to date, according to a March 10 report on U.S.-Saudi ties by Christopher Blanchard of the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service.