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​PARIS: Production for Qatar F-15s could stretch into 2022

Boeing is in the midst of contract negotiations with Qatar after signing a letter of authorisation last week, a potential contract that could stretch F-15 production for Qatar out to 2022, Boeing’s executive vice-president said this week.

Boeing would start production for Qatar at its fighter facility in St Louis, Missouri, in 2019, Leanne Caret told reporters on the eve of the Paris air show. The recent $12 billion deal includes 36 F-15QA fighter aircraft, which could ultimately lead to a production line lasting into 2022. In November of last year, the US Defense Security Cooperation Agency announced the potential sale of 72 Boeing F-15QA Strike Eagles to Qatar and 40 F/A-18Es and F/A-18Fs Super Hornets to Kuwait.

Boeing is celebrating the pending deal as another major coup for the once waning F-15 production line, even as US-Qatar relations remain fragile. Earlier this month, Saudi Arabia severed its ties with Qatar and shut down its land border after accusing Doha of funding terrorists. In a June 6 tweet, US President Donald Trump praised Saudi Arabia’s move.

“So good to see the Saudi Arabia visit with the King and 50 countries already paying off,” Trump tweeted. “They said they would take a hard line on funding extremism, and all reference was pointing to Qatar. Perhaps this will be the beginning of the end to the horror of terrorism!”

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson later intervened in the dispute between the Gulf States and Qatar, which hosts a major US Air Force Base at Al Udeid. But Trump continued to criticise Qatar, calling it “a funder of terrorism at a very high level.”

When asked whether the capricious behaviour from the White House and State Department has affected Boeing’s ability to make decisions, Caret told reporters Boeing was aligned with the US government’s decision on foreign military sales.

“Every administration has politics; there’s different levels of that,” she said. “What we do is we stay in line with our customer and from a service perspective they work with the appropriate officials, whether it be the State Department, and we let them dictate.”

Caret emphasised that unlike direct commercial sales, foreign military sales negotiations required years of negotiation, as was the case with the sale to Qatar. Such deals often weather years of political change, both at home and with the foreign customer, before deliveries are made.

“Each campaign is unique and when you deal internationally, they take quite a while,” Caret said. “This was in the works for years, similar to our Kuwait deals, similar to our Saudi deals… Selling Chinooks in India took years so this is a long game that we’re playing here. We’re very pleased that the US government and Qatar government were able to find a way forward.”

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