Procurement: Smart Bombs For Iran


December 17, 2015: Saudi Arabia recently ordered another $1.3 billion worth of smart bombs from the United States. This includes over 12,000 laser and GPS guided bombs. This is far more than is needed to replace bombs used recently in Yemen, Syria and Iraq. Not only that but the order includes BLU-109s, which are 910 kg (2,000) GPS guided bunker busters that can penetrate five meters (16 feet) of concrete. The only country in the region with a lot of targets for BUL-109 is Iran. Thus most of these 12,000 smart bombs appear to be for a possible war with Iran.

The aircraft most often used for delivering these smart bombs are the 153 F-15SA fighter-bombers. This includes 84 new ones ordered in 2012 and 69 upgraded F-15S models. The F-15SA is a special models of the F-15, similar to the two-seater F-15E, and unlike the single seat F-15Cs the Saudis already have optimized for ground attack.

Saudi Arabia has upgraded 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.

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 will begin receiving the new F-15SAs in 2016 and those 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 second crewman (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.




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