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Spheres of importance: Critical regions for US air power exports revealed
February 6, 2012Posted by on
The announcement of the sale of $29 billion worth of fighter jets and upgrades recently to the Royal Saudi Air Force (RSAF) comes as a further sign that the West and especially the US will continue to sell high tech weapon systems to Middle Eastern governments.
As the US seeks to re-posture itself from the Middle East towards Asia-Pacific, the continuing sale of high tech weaponry to a region too often blighted by instability and extremism might seem counter intuitive and irrational. However, seen in the economic, security and domestic political contexts in which they continue to occur, exports to the region take on the aura of calculated rationality.
It’s economics stupid…
First off, arms sales to the Middle East contribute to a US economy at a time when it is still finding it hard to recover from the financial crisis. The recent deal to the Royal Saudi Air Force (RSAF) will keep Boeing production lines open until 2018 and at a time of great economic uncertainty it is hard for anyone to argue against this.
No matter who wins the race to the White House this November keeping the economy on the path of recovery will be the President’s top goal. If the Republicans win then they won’t want to be seen as weak in an area which they are generally thought of as strong and will mercilessly attack Obama on during the election campaign.
Therefore, potential arms sales to the Gulf will be snapped up in order to keep jobs in the US at a time when manufacturing jobs increasingly find themselves shifting to the cheaper climes of the Far East.
…and stability too…
Beyond the domestic economic argument the sales to the Gulf also serve another key purpose (be it right or wrong); that is the stability of the respective regimes in an area of immense strategic importance to not just the US but the wider West too. The sale of the likes of aircraft, munitions, spares and training packages to the region buttress the likes of Saudi Arabia and the other GCC members against both internal and external sources of instability
While the West might champion ‘freedom’ in other parts of the Middle East the Gulf is a region where the status quo trumps any democratic aspirations the US might have for the region. Instability, upheaval, uprising, revolution, whatever one may call it would not be tolerated here for the simple fact that it would the give an already fragile world economy an almighty jolt through spiralling oil prices. The price of oil is already volatile enough these days even without major massive tensions gripping the internal affairs of the Gulf States.
Out of Iraq and into the…
While the recently announced deal to the RSAF had been in the pipeline for the past few years the US will want its regional allies to be able to maintain a credible deterrent against Iran at a time when US combat troops have departed Iraq.
With the Iranian nuclear program lumbering on even following a host of assassinations, the ‘stuxnet’ attack and enhanced sanctions the impasse, at some stage, will have to come to a head.
This increased pressure on Iran has led it to threaten to force shut the straits of Hormuz, a 35 mile wide strait on which a fifth of the world’s oil supply is carried daily. While, from Iran’s point of view such gestures and provocations often have a rational base a major miscalculation on the Iranians behalf is not beyond the realms of possibility. If such a situation does arise then the US will want its Gulf allies to maintain an active deterrent against Iranian moves.
It is then, for this reason that sales of advanced fighter jets, weapons systems, sensor suites et al to the Middle East will continue to grow.
When push comes to shove it is hard to know how the region’s air forces would fare if they had to act in any meaningful manner should the confrontation with Iran evolve into full blown hostilities. It is hard to see beyond the US leading any significant military operation in the region in the future.
For the Gulf states, maintaining the power to purchase arms from the US and the West does not necessarily translate into the expertise on how to use them. The presence of Qatar and the UAE during Operation Unified Protector will have been an eye opener for their air forces as to how modern air centric multinational operations are conducted. It is likely that they have much left to learn.
By Padraic McCluskey, Conference Producer at Defence IQ