Stalled U.S. Fighter Sales to Gulf Allies Prompt House Scrutiny

  • Lawmakers hit delays on sales of planes by Boeing, Lockheed
  • Letter seeks briefing by July 14 on sales of 81 fighter jets

Three House lawmakers in charge of spending legislation for national security agencies are requesting a briefing by July 14 on why the White House hasn’t approved the sale of as many as 81 fighter aircraft to three key Persian Gulf allies.

“Inexplicably, at the same time we have asked our partners in the region to assume greater roles” in the fight against the Islamic State “their requests for U.S. equipment languish,” the lawmakers said in a July 6 letter to Secretary of State John Kerry, Defense Secretary Ash Carter and National Security Adviser Susan Rice that was obtained by Bloomberg News.

The first and biggest of the unfulfilled requests dates back to 2013. The stalled aircraft sales could be valued at as much as $12 billion -- and $20 billion if spare parts, logistical support and munitions are included, according to Richard Aboulafia, an aerospace analyst for the Teal Group in Fairfax, Virginia.

President Barack Obama, Kerry and Carter have promised to strengthen the defenses of Gulf allies unhappy that he forged the nuclear deal that eased sanctions against Iran. But the administration also has its differences with the Sunni-ruled nations.

Qatar, Kuwait, Bahrain

Qatar submitted a letter of request in July 2013 for as many as 36 F-15s made by Boeing Co. Kuwait submitted a letter in April 2015 for 28 of the company’s F/A-18s. Bahrain made a more recent request for 17 F-16s built by Lockheed Martin Corp.

“In some cases their requests wait for years,” a situation that’s “unacceptable and must be rectified immediately,” wrote Republican Representatives Rodney Frelinghuysen of New Jersey, Ander Crenshaw of Florida and Kay Granger of Texas, where the F-16 is built.

The trio highlighted the prospective sales to Qatar, Kuwait and Bahrain as “the most prominent example” of the administration continuing “to take an exorbitant amount of time” to “process prior to” notifying Congress.

The lawmakers lead the House appropriations subcommittees that approve funds for the Defense Department, National Security Council and State Department.

Quarterly Report

Granger’s panel is completing action on the State Department’s fiscal 2017 budget request with a provision that would require quarterly reports for a year on all pending overseas arms sales with a description of what steps remain to be completed before the sale can be sent to Congress for approval.

The letter follows a similar one sent April 1 by John McCain, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Jack Reed, the panel’s top Democrat, and Claire McCaskill from Missouri, where Boeing builds F/A-18s and F-15s. The lawmakers, who haven’t received a response, according to aides, were joined by Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker.

Boeing last month orchestrated a lobbying campaign of letter-writing to the White House from members of aerospace unions and associations in Missouri, Michigan and Colorado and from the Illinois Chamber of Commerce.

In a June 23 letter, the Illinois chamber said 36 companies support the F/A-18 and F-15 programs and “directly and indirectly employ approximately 1,600 people while contributing $97 million to Illinois’s $13.4 billion defense economy.”

Bahrain Crackdown

Underscoring the sensitivities in approving such sales, a group of senators, including Chris Coons of Delaware, Marco Rubio of Florida and Tim Kaine of Virginia, last month wrote Kerry that they were “deeply alarmed” by the Bahrain government’s crackdown on dissent.

A State Department official who declined to be identified said that as a matter of policy the department doesn’t publicly comment on proposed defense sales or transfers until Congress has been formally notified.

The official said that in accordance with the Arms Export Control Act and the U.S. Conventional Arms Transfer Policy, it’s not unusual –- and is in fact quite appropriate -– for transfers of major U.S. weapons systems to any partner nation to require significant interagency consideration and consultation.

Another administration official said that by statute agencies also must determine that the sale or export of major defense equipment to countries in the Middle East wouldn’t adversely affect the promised “qualitative military edge” that the U.S. guarantees to Israel.

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