WASHINGTON — The U.S. and Qatar on Wednesday finalized the sale of F-15QA fighter aircraft, worth $12 billion.
A spokesman for the U.S. Department of Defense confirmed the letter had been signed during a meeting between U.S. Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis and his counterpart, Qatari Minister of State for Defense Khalid al-Attiyah.
When the long-awaited deal was cleared by the U.S. State Department in November, it was announced as a $21.1 billion agreement covering up to 72 jets, a good reminder that initial figures reported by the Defense Security Cooperation Agency are often high estimates for where an agreement will end up. Instead, it appears the agreement will be for about half that.
The final deal, first reported by Bloomberg News, is a welcome win for Boeing, which just a year ago appeared to be running out of customers for its F-15 line.
Speaking earlier today, Boeing defense head Leanne Caret sounded upbeat on the agreement, saying: "It is an FMS, a foreign military sale, so we continue to work with the U.S. Air Force. We stay in tune to the congressional delegations, obviously. We are in partnership with them as those decisions are made, and in terms of the status of the case that the Qataris are working through, we'll see how time proves itself on that one."
A spokesman for Boeing declined to comment beyond what the Pentagon announced. A spokesperson at the Qatar Embassy could not be reached for comment.
The sale comes at a time when the relationship between the U.S. and Qatar has been put under a spotlight.
At the start of the month, long-simmering tensions between Qatar and its neighbors Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates erupted, with the latter two leading a coalition of countries that shut down relations with Doha. Saudi Arabia has since closed its border with Qatar.
U.S. President Donald Trump threw oil onto that fire with a June 6 tweet linking Qatar to terrorist groups, saying: "So good to see the Saudi Arabia visit with the King and 50 countries already paying off. They said they would take a hard line on funding extremism, and all reference was pointing to Qatar. Perhaps this will be the beginning of the end to the horror of terrorism!"
Rex Tillerson, the U.S. secretary of state, later walked Trump’s comments back, a welcome move for defense watchers concerned that Trump’s statement would endanger the use of Al-Udeid Air Base, a central part of the U.S. air war in Iraq and Syria. That base houses 10,000 American troops and aircraft such as B-52 Stratofortresses, C-130 Hercules, KC-135 Stratotankers and E-8 JSTARS.
Despite the current tone in the regions, members of Congress in recent days expressed confidence the deal would get done.
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.