WASHINGTON — Two long awaited sales of fighter jets to Kuwait and Qatar continue to be held up by the US government, even as officials acknowledge growing frustration from the partner nations over the delay.
Requests from Qatar and Kuwait for new tranches of US high-end fighters were made almost three years ago, but have been stalled in the US foreign military sales approval process. It is believed that the sales have been frozen until after the US completes a new military funding agreement with Israel, a process which has dragged on longer than either nation expected.
Qatar is seeking 72 F-15E Strike Eagles, while Kuwait wants 28 F/A-18E/F fighter jets. Both sales would be a huge boon for Boeing as it searches for ways to keep the St. Louis, Missouri, production facility going.
Asked repeatedly about the status of the sales, Vice Adm. Joseph Rixey, director of the Defense Security Cooperation Agency, declined to comment on where in the process the jets are stalled.
"You’re asking me things I’m not gonna comment on," Rixey said after the Common Defense annual conference here in Washington. "The status has not changed, but we’re working very hard and waiting for the pre-negotiation period to start."
Heidi Grant, the point person for the US Air Force’s foreign weapons sales, struck an optimistic tone when discussing the potential sale.
"Hopefully we’re going to be coming close as a government to that solution," Grant said. "We’re still standing in there, we’re the partner of choice, they want our aircraft and hopefully we’ll see that happen."
Grant recently visited Qatar and had discussions with military officials there, and acknowledged that Doha is not happy with the situation.
"There’s always frustration when you can’t get things in a timely fashion, or on cost, or on schedule," she said. "There is always going to be frustration. My job is to look at how we can mitigate that frustration."
Valerie Insinna in Washington contributed to this report.
Aaron Mehta was deputy editor and senior Pentagon correspondent for Defense News, covering policy, strategy and acquisition at the highest levels of the Defense Department and its international partners.