Saudi Arabia has signed an agreement that could lead to the purchase of up to 84 Boeing F-15SA fighters, upgrades for 70 F-15S fighters in a package worth $29.4 billion.

The long-awaited agreement was signed on 24 December, but announced formally by US government officials five days later.

"This has been long in the making," said Andrew Shapiro, assistant secretary of state for political and military affairs. "Discussions over providing aircraft for the Saudi air force have taken place over a number of years. We've negotiated the agreement over the past year and it was signed on Christmas Eve."

The package of up to 84 new fighters includes General Electric F110-GE-129 improved performance engines, Raytheon APG-63(V)3 active electronically scanned array (AESA) radars, Raytheon AIM-120C-7 advanced medium range air to air missiles (AMRAAMs) and AIM-9X Sidewinders, according to the original notification letter.

The deal allows Boeing to preserve the F-15 production line in St. Louis, Missouri, saving up to 50,000 jobs around the country, said Andrew Shapiro, assistant secretary of state for political and military affairs.

Boeing has been waiting for Saudi Arabia to sign a contract since the US government notified Congress 15 months ago.

In October, Boeing chief executive officer Jim McNerney assured market analysts that the deal could be signed quickly, citing without the elaborating the recent death of Saudi Crown Prince Sultan bin Abdul Azziz as one of the factors that could accelerate the process.

However, the timing of first delivery means Boeing may have to overcome a break in the production line.

Boeing is scheduled to deliver the last F-15Es on order by South Korea and Singapore in 2013.

But the delivery of the first new F-15SA is not scheduled until 2015, said Jim Miller, principal deputy under secretary of defense for policy. The retrofits of the APG-63 on Saudi Arabia's 70 F-15S' will start in 2014, he added.

Source: Flight International