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U.S. announces $30 billion F-15 fighter jet deal with Saudi Arabia

U.S. announces $30 billion F-15 fighter jet deal with Saudi Arabia

F-15 aircraft

A group of U.S. Air Force F-15 aircraft fly in formation during a training mission at Mountain Home Air Force Base. (AP Photo/Matt Cilley)

UPDATED at 12:30 p.m. with reaction from Boeing and analysis from defense industry

The Defense Department announced Thursday that the United States has formalized a billion dollar deal to sell 84 more F-15 fighter jets to the Saudi Arabian government.

The F-15 is manufactured on the Boeing Defense, Space and Security division's production line in Hazelwood.

"This is wonderful news on the production side," said Tom Pinski, a spokesman for District 837 representing 2,600 St. Louis-based members of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers.

Pinski said the deal probably won't result in additional hires at the Hazelwood manufacturing facility.

But he expects the additional 84 aircraft will stabilize current levels of Boeing production jobs in and around St. Louis.

"Valued at $29.4 billion, this agreement includes production of 84 new aircraft and the modernization of 70 existing aircraft as well as munitions, spare parts, training, maintenance and logistics," the White House's principal deputy press secretary, Josh Earnest, said in a statement e-mailed to Bloomberg. "These F-15SA aircraft, manufactured by The Boeing Company, are among the most sophisticated and capable aircraft in the world."

The agreement with the Saudis has been in the works for 15 months.

Boeing Chairman, President and CEO Jim McNerney praised the completion of the Saudi deal shortly after the Pentagon officially signed off on the agreement early Thursday afternoon.

"Boeing views Saudi Arabia as a market with great potential and has made it a priority to invest in Saudi Arabia's aviation industry while working to strengthen local technical and vocational training programs and institutions," McNerny said in a written statement.

The package also calls on Boeing to upgrade 70 of the F-15s Saudi Arabia purchased in a 1992 deal worth $9 billion.

Loren Thompson, a defense analyst with the Lexington Institute, called Thursday's announcement the culmination of years of delicate negotiations connected to the U.S. role in regional Mideast security.

Thursday's announcement follows an Iranian threat to block oil shipments through the Strait of Hormuz.

Iran issued the threat after the U.S. and other nations  other nations indicated increased economic sanctions might be necessary to slow the expansion of Iran's  nuclear capabilities.

"The sale of F-15 was carefully constructed by the United States government to create a potent deterrent to Iranian aggression without posing a huge threat to Israel," Thompson said. "(The F-15) has middle-range fighter capabilities. It is not fully stealthy joint striker. But it is far superior to anything Iran has." 

As news of the deal spread, local politicians also weighed in on the impact continued F-15 production will have on the local economy.

"This deal will ensure years of new fighter production at Boeing, keeping hundreds of middle-class manufacturing jobs in St. Louis," U.S. Rep. Russ Carnahan, D-Missouri, said in a written statement.

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Steve Giegerich is a reporter for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

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