The Pentagon is preparing for formal congressional review of an arms sale to the United Arab Emirates that includes about 600 satellite-guided bunker-buster bombs, according to three people familiar with the issue.
The 600 bombs, which weigh as much as 2,000-pounds each, are part of munitions package for the U.S. ally whose pilots fly the world’s most technologically advanced Lockheed Martin Corp. F-16s, said people who spoke on the condition they not be identified because the sale is sensitive. The exact bunker-buster variant has not been set, they said.
The sale comes at a time of growing tension between Arab states in the Persian Gulf region and Iran, in the wake of new information from the International Atomic Energy Agency that Iran may be seeking to develop nuclear weapons. Both Israel and the U.S. have said that military action against Iran is possible unless Tehran ends its suspect nuclear activities.
The U.S. is in an informal notification period with congressional committees that precedes a formal Pentagon referral. Congress has 30 days after the formal notice to approve or reject the proposal. The Wall Street Journal this month had reported the proposed sale involved “thousands” of bunker busters.
“This is a potentially significant sale not for its size but for its content,” said Congressional Research Service Middle East analyst Kenneth Katzman in an e-mail statement. “The sale sends a strong signal to Iran” that a U.S. or regional military option to counter the country’s nuclear program “remains firmly on the table,” he wrote.
The implication is that UAE forces are inter-operable with U.S. aircraft “and could be used in conjunction with a U.S. military option/action,” Katzman wrote.
A Pentagon spokeswoman declined to comment on the sale.
“We won’t have anything for you until it actually goes to the Hill,” said spokeswoman Tara Rigler in an e-mail statement. “As a matter of policy, we decline to comment on proposed arms sales or transfers until they have been formally notified to Congress.”
The overall package totals 4,900 Joint Direct Attack Munition kits made by Chicago-based Boeing Co. that convert unguided bombs into precision satellite-guided munitions. They include 600 kits for hard-target penetrating BLU-109 2,000-pound bunker-busters and another 300 kits for newer JDAMs that employ either laser or satellite guidance and are capable of hitting mobile targets, said a person with direct knowledge of the proposed sale.
The UAE and Pentagon also are in the final stages of signing a multibillion-dollar contract for Lockheed Martin Terminal High Altitude Air Defense missiles and taking delivery next year of its first Patriot PAC-3 air defense missiles, made by Lockheed Martin and Raytheon Co. of Waltham, Massachusetts, said one person following the missile programs.
UAE in August 2010 scaled back by about one-third its planned acquisition in what was a potential $6.95 billion package -- to 96 interceptors from 144, according to a U.S. Missile Defense Agency document.