January 10, 2012: After two years of negotiations Saudi Arabia signed a deal to buy 84 American F-15SA fighter bombers. These are special models of the F-15, similar to the two-seater F-15E, and unlike the single seat F-15Cs the Saudis already have. In addition, Saudi Arabia will upgrade 69 F-15S two-seaters to the F-15SA standard. The F-15S aircraft were obtained in the 1990s and are based on the then current F-15Es. The F-15SA has upgraded electronic and mechanical components. The deliveries and upgrades would be accomplished over the next four years.
Israel protested selling the Saudis such advanced bomber technology, but the U.S. worked this out via secret discussions. The Saudi "F-15SA" will be similar to the South Korean version of the F-15E, the F-15K. This is a customized version of the 36 ton U.S. F-15E (a two seat fighter bomber version of the single seat, 31 ton F-15C fighter). Already in service for over twenty years, the F-15E can carry up to 11 tons of bombs and missiles, along with a targeting pod and an internal 20mm cannon. The Saudi F-15SA sale is part of a larger $30 billion arms deal. The Saudis would begin receiving their new F-15SAs in about four years and will cost nearly $30 billion.
The F-15E is an all-weather aircraft that can fly one-way up to 3,900 kilometers. It uses in-flight refueling to hit targets anywhere on the planet. For the Saudis this means they can keep these bombers in the air longer, searching for targets. Smart bombs make the F-15E particularly efficient. The backseater handles the electronics and bombing.
The F-15E remains a potent air-superiority fighter, making it an exceptional combat aircraft. This success prompted Israel, Saudi Arabia, South Korea, and Singapore to buy it, paying about $100 million per aircraft. In the U.S. Air Force the F-15E is one of the most popular aircraft for combat pilots to fly, even more so than the new F-22.
Saudi Arabia, and other Arab Gulf states (the UAE, Kuwait, Iraq) have more than tripled their purchases of American weapons over the last five years as they strive to protect themselves from an increasingly aggressive and hostile Iran.