Saudi Arabia’s air force has signed a deal to upgrade its fleet of 150 strike aircraft and procure advanced weaponry to respond to an Iranian military threat while simultaneously denying reports that the country is coordinating with Israel over a possible strike against Iran’s nuclear sites.

“The Saudis are very worried about the growing power of Iran,” Arie Egozi, an aviation expert for the Israeli daily Yediot Ahronot, told The Media Line. “They want to protect their oil resources and other things. They have a very large air force and are upgrading their capabilities by installing new systems into their aircraft, mainly the Boeing F15s.”

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The Royal Saudi Air Force (RSAF) upgrades include components to extend the life of the fighter bombers and highly-accurate target acquisition pods. 

The Goodrich Corporation announced it had been selected to upgrade Saudi Arabia’s fleet of 150 F-15 Eagle fighter aircraft with Grid-Lock flight controls. The retrofit of the aircraft ailerons, flaps, rudders and wing tips will bring them up to par with US Air Force F-15s, the company said. 

“The RSAF recognized the improved lifecycle costs that the USAF is realizing on its flight control surfaces as a result of this innovative technology,” Marc Duvall, president of Goodrich Aerostructures, said in a statement. 

The London-based Jane’s Defence Weekly reported that the deal was worth some $50 million. 

The announcement comes a few weeks after Saudi Arabia’s air force signed a deal with Lockheed Martin to provide Sniper advanced targeting pods (ATP) for its F-15s. The pods will enable the pilot to detect and fire laser-guided weapons at a variety of targets on the ground. 

“We are now looking forward to deliver additional pods to support their urgent operational requirement for Sniper ATP capability,” said John Rogers, Saudi Sniper ATP program manager at Lockheed Martin Missiles and Fire Control, according to a Lockheed Martin news report.

Egozi said that the Sniper system was similar to one developed by Israel, which also maintains a number of F-15 squadrons. 

“Of course the Saudi’s cannot buy from Israel, so they bought this system from the United States and they have upgraded immensely the capabilities of these aircraft,” the aviation expert said. 

Mustafa Alani, a military analyst at the Gulf Research Centre in Dubai, argued that the main impetus behind the RSAF’s efforts to upgrade its strike fleet is the threat posed to the region by a nuclear-armed Iran. 

“Any war with Iran will be an air force and missile war, so Saudi Arabia has to enhance its air force's capabilities,” Alani was quoted as saying in Jane’s. “Saudi procurement strategies have been focused on acquisition of the most advanced defense technologies so that they can be interoperable with the US and this is the latest evidence of that.”

Alani added that the US was allowing the kingdom to pay for the upgrade with US military grant money because it didn’t want to lose a lucrative market to the Europeans and Russians, allowing the RSAF to turn their F-15s into a “serious aircraft and not a symbolic one.”

Egozi said the Saudi air force was hardly “symbolic,” and was considered to be one of the most potent in the Middle East. He added that upgrading existing aircraft instead of purchasing newer platforms was common in all modern air forces. 

“There is no point in buying, even if you have the money, a new platform when the existing one is good as long as you upgrade it with the new systems,” he argued. “It is a normal procedure which is being done by the Israeli Air Force, the American Air Force and by all the most advanced air forces in the world and the Saudi’s are doing the same.”

Both Israel and Saudi Arabia feel threatened by a nuclear-armed Iran. The Sunday Times has reported that a deal was reached between Israel and Saudi Arabia in which Riyadh would turn a blind eye to an Israeli air strike on Iran that would entail Israeli jets flying over Saudi air space. 

Saudi Arabia has denied the reports as “false and slanderous.”

According to Egozi, the Saudi’s air defense system could pose a formidable obstacle to any strike over its territory. 

“They have the upgraded AWACS (airborne warning radar) which can detect the aircraft approaching Saudi air space,” he said. “They have the F-15 fleets. It is an air power which any country should take into account.”

“I don’t know about this report of coordination between Israel and Saudi Arabia, but the Saudi Air Force is a force which you have to take into consideration in any context in the area,” Egozi said. “The Saudis are investing all of their time in order to keep their capabilities high, but I think their main concern right now is Iran.”

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