The Royal Saudi Air Force (RSAF) is again expressing interest in acquiring additional Boeing F-15S Eagle strike fighters. With the US Air Force continuing to negotiate for five more aircraft, the moves raise the possibility of a sustained restart to production of the aircraft at the company's St Louis plant.

Boeing began shutting down production of the F-15E last year after losing to the Eurofighter Typhoon and Lockheed Martin F-16 in competitions in Greece and Israel. The last four aircraft on order from an earlier attrition purchase of 17 will be delivered to the USAF in the next month.

The prospect of a new RSAF order for up to 24 examples of the two-seat F-15S emerged during a visit to the country by US defence secretary William Cohen. US officials, however, have stressed there is no deal in place and that talks are still at a preliminary stage.

Saudi Arabia has an outstanding requirement to replace up to 100 Northrop Grumman RF/F-5E/Fs fighter and reconnaissance aircraft and had been widely tipped to order the F-16C/D. The replacement programme has been on hold for economic reasons, but with the strengthened price of oil it is showing signs of being revived.

The RSAF in November took delivery of the last of 72 of the F-15S - a version of the F-15E - ordered in 1992. It also operates 74 air-defence dedicated F-15C/D fighters. Israel has also recently voiced interest in ordering more F-15Is to supplement 25 aircraft ordered in 1994/5.

Boeing's strongest immediate prospect for a new order remains the USAF, which was given an additional $25 million funding in the fiscal year 2000 budget by the US Congress for long lead items for another five aircraft. The air force, however, has still not finalised a contract and has voiced concern over the $75 million asking price of the aircraft.

If a deal can be concluded shortly, Boeing says it will begin to ramp up production again at the end of this year and will be able to deliver the first new fighter in the second quarter of 2002. Boeing is hoping a restart in production will improve the F-15's chance of winning South Korea's forthcoming F-X requirement for up to 40 fighters.

Source: Flight International