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    HomeMilitarySaudi Arabia's Strategic Air Power: Choosing the F-15EX Over F-16

    Saudi Arabia’s Strategic Air Power: Choosing the F-15EX Over F-16

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    Despite being surrounded by countries with substantial fleets of the F-16, a mainstay in modern air forces, Saudi Arabia has notably never acquired this particular aircraft.

    Saudi Arabia’s longstanding relationship with the F-15, dating back to the late 1970s, has resulted in a formidable fleet of approximately 230 F-15s.

    In February, the vice president of Boeing Defense, Space & Security, stressed the importance of the potential Saudi acquisition, saying, “one of the biggest things that we’re talking about right now.”

    In a show of the aircraft’s prowess and the importance of this partnership, an F-15EX simulator was showed to the U.S. Ambassador to Saudi Arabia, Michael Ratney, in April, highlighting the “deep collaboration” and “cutting-edge technology” integral to the U.S.-Saudi alliance.

    The F-15SA variant, the most advanced Saudi Eagle, is an example of Riyadh’s commitment to maintaining a top-tier air force.

    According to Boeing, the F-15SA can carry up to 12 air-to-air missiles and 24 air-to-ground munitions.

    The first F-15SA was rolled out at Boeing’s St. Louis facilities in April 2013, while the final F-15SA advanced fighter aircraft were delivered in December 2020.

    The loss of one Eagle in December 2023 in a crash only underscores the risks inherent in operating such sophisticated machinery.

    Saudi Arabia’s air force also includes Eurofighter Typhoons and is considering phasing out its aging Tornados.

    The kingdom’s strategic choices cannot be divorced from the wider regional context, especially the delicate balance of power with Israel. Israel is the only Middle Eastern country to field multiple types of American fourth-generation fighters and the fifth-generation F-35.

    For example, Egypt’s F-16s, while numerous, were restricted from carrying long-range AIM-120 air-to-air missiles, significantly reducing their air defense potential—a situation Saudi Arabia was keen to avoid.

    Turkey, which first acquired the F-16 in 1987, operates the third largest F-16 fleet worldwide and recently ordered 40 new Block 70 F-16s.

    Israel’s initially robust opposition to Saudi F-15 acquisitions gradually softened, likely due to a reassessment of the regional threat landscape, including the growing concern over Iran.

    “if you want the F-15, the choice is yours,” While recommending the F-16 to Riyadh, the U.S. deputy secretary of defense told the Saudi defense minister in 1976.

    Saudi Arabia is presently hoping to acquire sixth-generation fighter by 2040, but unless it receives authorization to order F-35s as part of an extensive agreement with the United States, the F-15 will most likely remain the Royal Saudi Air Force’s linchpin fighter for several more years.

    Relevant articles:
    Why Saudi Arabia Never Acquired The F-Why Saudi Arabia Never Acquired The F-16 (forbes.com), Forbes
    F-15SA: Saudi Arabia Has a Very Special and Expensive F-15 Fighter, nationalinterest.org
    SAUDIS MAY PURCHASE U.S. F-16 FIGHTERS, Washington Post
    U.A.E. to Receive 80 F-16s With Features More Advanced Than Similar U.S. Jets, Arms Control Association

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