U.S. Air Force to Contract for Supply, Repair of Saudi F-15s

 - October 6, 2015, 10:25 PM
Boeing 'Advanced F-15' fighter, similar to the new F-15SA for Saudi Arabia, is shown in multi-role configuration. (Photo: Boeing)

The U.S. Air Force’s F-15 foreign military sales office expects to award contracts next year valued at $2.5 billion for maintenance support of the Royal Saudi Air Force (RSAF) F-15 fleet. The service has invited both U.S. and foreign-owned companies to bid on the “sustainment” work, which has until now been performed by a Saudi-owned firm.

The RSAF in the coming years will operate approximately 230 of the twin-engine fighters, according to the U.S. Air Force, a number that includes around 70 F-15C/D air superiority fighters from the 1980s and 70 multi-role S models produced in the mid-1990s.

Another 84 new F-15SA (Saudi Advanced) fighters were included in the record $29 billion arms package concluded between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia in December 2011. The upgraded version comes with a digital electronic warfare suite, fly-by-wire flight control system, infrared search and track system and Raytheon APG-63(v) 3 active electronically scanned radar. As part of arms package, the S models will be upgraded to the SA configuration.

The Air Force and prime contractor Boeing first flew the F-15SA over Boeing’s St. Louis facilities on Feb. 20, 2013, and Boeing rolled out the aircraft during a ceremony that April. Plans called for the U.S. to make deliveries to Saudi Arabia beginning this year through 2019. In late August, Arabian Aerospace reported that first deliveries to the kingdom, originally expected in January, were then imminent following the resolution of an unspecified problem with the fighter's fly-by-wire system.

Boeing is guarded in describing the F-15SA program. Asked about it status during the Air Force Association conference outside of Washington, D.C., in mid-September, Mike Gibbons, Boeing vice president of F-15 programs, said he couldn’t talk specifically about deliveries to Saudi Arabia, deferring the question to the two governments. “But we are in production right now of those jets, and flight test as well,” he added.

A Saudi firm, Al-Raha Group for Technical Services (RGTS), of Riyadh, has provided maintenance support of the RSAF’s existing F-15 fleet. Subsequently, the Saudi government has asked the U.S. to make the work available to other companies, said Brittany Prouty, Air Force lead program manager for F-15 foreign military sales. “Saudi Arabia initially requested that we go to RGTS for all of our sustainment-type activities,” Prouty told AIN. “They’ve now asked that we compete these activities. I think they’re looking ultimately to save a little bit of money.”

About 50 U.S. and foreign-owned companies attended an industry day the Air Force held in early August at Robins Air Force Base, Ga., where it outlined the requirements for Saudi F-15 sustainment. The work includes printing technical orders, stocking depots and work benches, repairing aircraft-specific and support equipment and providing personnel for supply activities in Saudi Arabia.

Initially, the Air Force considered dividing the sustainment work into five separate acquisitions. As a result of the industry day, however, it has decided to consolidate the activities into two contracts focused on repair and supply.

On October 2, the Air Force released presolicitation notices for Saudi F-15 repair services and F-15 supply services. According to Prouty, it expects to award contracts between August and December of 2016. As outlined to industry, the contracts will likely have five-to-seven-year terms.