Melbourne, AUSTRALIA: A US Air Force F-15 performs during the first public session of the Australian International Airshow, Melbourne, 23 March 2007. A crowd of nearly 200,000 people are expected to attend the airshow over the weekend. AFP PHOTO/Paul CROCK (Photo credit should read PAUL CROCK/AFP/Getty Images)
U.S. selling combat jets to Saudi Arabia
02:18 - Source: CNN

Story highlights

NEW: The new fighter jets are to be built in St. Louis

Legislative timetable, not tensions in region, was deal's impetus, official says

The U.S. signs a deal to sell $30 billion in F-15 fighter jet technology to Saudi Arabia

The White House says the deal will provide a $3.5 billion boost to the U.S. economy

Washington CNN  — 

The U.S. government has signed an agreement with Saudi Arabia to sell nearly $30 billion worth of F-15 fighter jets, federal officials said Thursday.

The $29.4 billion deal – announced against the backdrop of rising tensions with Iran – calls for the production of up to 84 new F-15SA aircraft and the modernization of 70 current F-15s, along with “munitions, spare parts, training, maintenance and logistics,” Assistant Secretary of State for Political-Military Affairs Andrew Shapiro told reporters.

The agreement, which was signed over the weekend by U.S. and Saudi officials, “demonstrates the U.S. commitment to a strong Saudi defense capability as a key component to regional security,” Shapiro said. “This sale will send a strong message to countries in the region that the United States is committed to stability in the Gulf and broader Middle East.”

Shapiro sought to allay concerns the sale could compromise Israel’s military edge. “By law, all sales to the region must be evaluated for the impact on Israel’s qualitative military edge,” he said of the review conducted before the Saudi deal went forward. “We conducted that assessment and we are satisfied that this sale to Saudi Arabia will not (diminish) Israel’s qualitative military edge,” Shapiro said.

Administration officials first notified Congress of plans for a major new weapons deal with Saudi Arabia in October 2010. The deal is meant to further align the Saudi military relationship with the United States and equip the kingdom so it can better protect its security and oil structure, which “is critical to our economic interests,” Shapiro said at the time.

The letters of acceptance will total some $24 billion in sales for the Boeing Company, which has produced more than 1,600 F-15s in various models since the first one was delivered in 1972, said company spokesman Dan Beck. He said the first upgraded aircraft in the Saudi Arabia package will be delivered in 2014, and the new aircraft will be delivered beginning in 2015.

Beck said he could not say how many F-15s are still in service, how long the average F-15 flies before being retired, or how much a single F-15 will cost.

Though the aircraft will be produced in St. Louis, it was not clear how many new jobs would result. “What this really does is it helps secure the 2,000-plus jobs in St. Louis right now working on F-15 fighters through the end of the decade,” Beck said.

With some 600 suppliers in 44 states involved in making the aircraft, the program will support 50,000 to 60,000 U.S. jobs, he said. “It certainly certainly translates into sustaining existing jobs as well as creating new ones at Boeing and throughout the supply chain that helps produce this,” he said.

CNN’s Adam Levine and Alan Silverleib contributed to this report.