WASHINGTON (Jan. 10)
The United States announced today that it is sending 12 armed f-15 fighter jets and 300 or more American airmen to Saudi Arabia in the next two days in a demonstration of “security” for the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the Middle East “region” that may be threatened by the continuing turmoil in Iran.
However, later today, the Pentagon told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency that the F-15s will leave the U.S. about Jan. 20 for Saudi Arabia because time is needed to complete logistical arrangements, including permission for over flights an route. According to the Pentagon, 250-300 airmen will accompany the planes, including about 36 pilots. The others will be support personnel as the U.S. has no support base in Saudi Arabia.
The Pentagon disclosed that the “purpose of the deployment will be for the demonstration of the F-15 aircraft.” The State Department clarified this later by emphasizing that it “is not a training mission” but “a highly visible fly-in” in which the American jets will “do some highly visible flights.”
The State Department’s chief spokesman Hodding Carter emphasized that the planes were being sent “at the invitation” of Saudi Arabia. “They wish the flight to come in,” he said. He said the planes would be in Saudi Arabia for “a relatively short period” but “the dates are not determined.” The Pentagon also said that the planes would remain in Saudi Arabia for “a short period of time.”
Asked by reporters if the fly-in was discussed with Israel and Egypt and was for their security too, Carter replied, “I am sure Israel was told and others as well. “He said he was not aware of any fly-in plan for Israel. Asked if the U.S. was concerned with Israel’s security, he replied, “certainly.”
SHOWS CLOSE U.S.-SAUDI RELATIONSHIP
The State Department spokesman explained that the fly-in demonstrates “the close relationship” of the U.S. with Saudi Arabia and the Saudis with the U.S. But he refused to acknowledge that the U.S. is concerned about the stability of the Saudi leadership should the tumultuous events in Iran spread. “It is not a question of security” for the Saudi kingdom, Carter said, adding that he was not “expressing any concern of the stability of the regime in Saudi Arabia.” He described the fly-in as an “orientation,” not “a training flight” to train Saudi pilots.
Last spring, Saudi Arabia was authorized to purchase 60 F-15s. Carter said Saudi Arabia “is currently scheduled” to begin training its pilots in the U.S. in 1981 and that delivery of the planes, the most highly sophisticated fighters in the U.S. arsenal, would be in 1982. “I know of no change” in this schedule, Carter said when asked if Saudi Arabia was worried that the Administration would reconsider the sale of the F-15s. Some concern has been expressed in Congress that the fall of the Shah’s government might result in Soviet acquisition of the technology embodied in the highly sophisticated military equipment the U.S. has sold to Iran.
Carter would not discuss whether the fly-in was related to the possibility of an attack on Saudi Arabia by Iraq or Yemen. However, he said, the U.S. is involved in the “security of the kingdom” of Saudi Arabia and also “clearly the security of the region.” He said the decision to send the planes to Saudi Arabia was taken “in the last week or so.” Asked if the decision was made at about the time Saudi Arabia supported a 14 1/2 percent increase in oil prices, Carter replied, “I don’t know.”
Asked how the F-15s would be refueled on their flight to Saudi Arabia, Carter said the “logistical steps are being worked out with various possible host governments.” He said there would be back-up military equipment in support of the 12 planes but did not amplify. He disclosed, however, that the F-15s would be armed with 20 mm. guns. He stressed that he was “not conceding” that the fly-in is “an increase” of U.S. involvement.
According to sources here, the planes are expected to land at Riyadh, the Saudi capital, and to be moved from there to various locations in Saudi Arabia. While the State Department said that such fly-ins have taken place in the past, other sources said it was unusual and that it was intended as another signal to the Soviet Union of U.S. opposition to any outside intervention in Iranian affairs.