Boeing Defense presented the first F-15SA destined for Saudi Arabia in a ceremony at its St. Louis headquarters on April 30. The latest F-15 variant is the centerpiece of the largest foreign military sale in U.S. history, worth $29.4 billion. It also figured prominently in recent U.S. negotiations to improve the military capabilities of Israel, the UAE and Saudi Arabia simultaneously.
The F-15SA (Saudi Advanced) that rolled out in St. Louis is the first of 84 new fighters Saudi Arabia agreed to purchase in late December 2011; another 70 F-15S fighters already operated by the Royal Saudi Air Force will be upgraded to the SA configuration. Boeing declined to reveal the delivery schedule. Earlier this year, the U.S. Air Force said that new aircraft deliveries to Saudi Arabia will begin in 2015 and conclude by 2019. Conversion kit installations in the kingdom begin in 2016.
The F-15SA first flew at St. Louis on February 20. The USAF said the flight-test program will include three instrumented F-15As flying from Boeing’s St. Louis and Palmdale, Calif., facilities.
Improvements on the F-15SA include fly-by-wire flight controls, a digital electronic warfare suite, Lockheed Martin AN/AAS-42 infrared search and track system and Raytheon APG-63(v)3 active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar. The forward and aft cockpits are equipped for the Joint Helmet Mounted Cueing System enabling the crew to aim sensors and weapons through their helmet visors. The aircraft has two additional wing stations for increased weapons payload capacity.
Saudi Arabia’s F-15SAs and 25 new Lockheed Martin F-16 Block 60 fighters sought by the UAE will be equipped with unspecified advanced “standoff weapons” that have not previously been made available to those countries, according to a senior U.S. defense official. In addition, the U.S. has agreed to supply Israel with advanced weaponry that includes the Bell-Boeing V-22 tiltrotor, KC-135 tankers and AESA radar retrofits.
The Pentagon revealed the weapons packages during a briefing for reporters on April 19 in advance of Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel’s first trip to the Middle East in his new capacity. They represent “one of the most complex and carefully orchestrated arms sale packages in American history,” and resulted from intensive negotiations begun under previous defense secretary Leon Panetta, the defense official said. Israel’s consent was critical. “A key part of the agreement is [that] we believe and the Israelis believe that the provision of these capabilities [will] in no way diminish Israel’s qualitative military edge,” the official said.