Proposed Sale of AWACS to Saudi Arabia

Gao ID: 116598 October 5, 1981

GAO took no position on whether Congress should approve the sale of the Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS) to Saudi Arabia. U.S. officials believe that the United States is unlikely, under current circumstances, to obtain formal access to military facilities in key Arabian Peninsula countries. Saudi Arabia's reluctance to entertain U.S. access overtures is not inconsistent with sensitivities throughout the region to an increased U.S. military presence and capability. According to U.S. officials, even U.S. approval of the AWACS sale would not significantly increase Saudi receptivity to formal access and would not open the door to the type of access considered necessary by the Department of Defense (DOD). However, Saudi opposition to written agreements need not prevent the search for more informal and mutually acceptable forms of close military cooperation. The Administration sees the sale of AWACS as a way to pre-position AWACS spare parts and specialized equipment that could be available for use by U.S. forces in a crisis region. There is a strong rationale for using an airborne early warning system to defend the Saudi oil fields. The Saudi AWACS would have both offensive and defensive capabilities; it would be essentially the same as or better than the AWACS in the current U.S. inventory. Substituting five Saudi AWACS planes for the current U.S. AWACS deployment would either reduce current coverage time or require supplemental help from U.S. AWACS to maintain extended around-the-clock coverage. Saudi Arabia recognizes the Soviet threat, but perceives threats from other nations in the region to be more imminent. Selling AWACS to Saudi Arabia would enhance the potential capabilities of the Royal Saudi Air Force but, according to DOD, not sufficiently to be a threat to Israeli security.

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