LONDON — British efforts to seal a major deal with Saudi Arabia for precision-guided bombs appears to be stalled by U.S. International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR), according to sources here and in Washington.
The deal to sell Paveway IV weapons developed by Raytheon’s U.K. arm has been on the table since mid-2010, but the U.S. State Department has rebuffed British efforts to secure ITAR approval despite high-level intervention by the government here, the sources said.
News that the British and U.S. governments are at odds over the issue comes just days after a successful meeting in Washington between President Barack Obama and British Prime Minister David Cameron in which military and security cooperation were at the top of the agenda.
“It’s possible there was some discussion on the issue over the last few days in the sidelines of the visit,” said one Washington source.
The impasse over a deal that would involve selling an initial batch of more than 1,000 bombs to the Royal Saudi Air Force is causing friction between London and Washington and infuriating the Saudis, the sources said. Saudi Arabia is among America’s largest defense export markets, having recently signed a $30 billion weapons deal with the U.S.
The British weapon is initially intended for use on Tornado strike jets. If the weapon is cleared for sale to the Saudis, it would also be fitted onto the 72 Eurofighter Typhoons being delivered to the Saudis by BAE Systems as part of the Al-Salam program.
It is unclear exactly what technology security issues are blocking the deal. Saudi Arabia already operates earlier versions of the Paveway family. Raytheon announced in January 2011 that it had signed a $457 million deal with Saudi Arabia for the delivery of Paveways, but never specified which members of the Paveway family were involved in the deal.
Spokesmen for Raytheon and the British government’s export arm, the Defence Security Organisation, both declined to comment on the ITAR block by the U.S. government.
The Raytheon spokesman said, “we will have to refer you to the U.S. government.” A U.S. State Department spokesman was not immediately available to comment.
Official confirmation that the precision bomb sale was an issue came from Britain’s defense attaché in Washington, Maj. Gen. Buster Howes.
Asked at a conference in Washington, where he was speaking last week, whether there had been any movement with the State Department on the Paveway IV problem, Howes said, “I know there have been discussions ... but I don’t know if there has been any progress.”
A new U.K./U.S. Defence Trade Cooperation Treaty easing the flow of technology between the two sides is scheduled to be put in place at the end of this month.
The new weapon being offered to the Royal Saudi Air Force was developed by a team of U.K. and U.S. Raytheon engineers to meet a British Royal Air Force requirement to equip its jets with an advanced version of the Paveway system fitted to a 500-pound warhead.
Featuring laser and GPS guidance with the latest Raytheon-developed anti-GPS jamming equipment, the weapon entered service with the British Royal Air Force in 2008 and has been widely used by the RAF in Afghanistan and most recently in Libya.
The British announced last week that they were spending 60 million pounds ($95.1 million) to replenish stocks of the weapon, which is cleared for use only by the RAF’s Tornado GR4 strike jets, although integration of the bomb on the Typhoon is well advanced with an expected in-service date of September 2013.