155. Memorandum From the Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern, South Asian, and African Affairs (Rountree) to the Secretary of State1
- Jet Fighter Aircraft for Lebanon and Jordan
To determine whether the United States should make jet fighter aircraft available to Lebanon and Jordan on a grant basis.
The pro-West Government of Lebanon continues to feel insecure in its position and to look to the United States for economic and military aid. The Lebanese are particularly urging that we furnish the Lebanese Air Force with modern jet fighters to replace the obsolete planes with which they are presently equipped. The Lebanese believe that their possession of jet fighters would act as an important deterrent to the Syrians. They also stress the psychological effect which the provision of such fighters would have on Lebanese public opinion. The British have expressed an interest in Lebanon’s air strength and are maintaining a small air training mission in Lebanon. We have been advised by the British, however, that while British fighter aircraft might be made available to Lebanon, the United Kingdom is not in a [Page 265] position to offer them on a grant basis nor even to pay a portion of the cost of these planes on the understanding that the United States would assume the balance.
Since his accession to the throne in 1953, King Hussein, himself a trained pilot, has exhibited a strong interest in the strengthening of Jordan’s Air Force which presently consists of about 36 planes, of which 12 are obsolescent British jets. While the Anglo-Jordanian Treaty was still in force, King Hussein constantly sought British assistance in this connection, but relatively little was done. About a month ago, the King advised the British Ambassador in Amman of his desire to purchase a number of the latest type of British fighters. The British have accordingly provided considerable information as to availabilities. Just recently a representative of the British aircraft firm of Hunter has been in Amman and has awakened the King’s interest in acquiring 16 Hunter Mark VI fighter aircraft at a total cost of about $7 million. Not unexpectedly, the Jordanians have approached us as to the possibility of our assisting Jordan in financing this transaction.
- The Department of Defense states that it has no military requirements for aircraft to be supplied to either Lebanon or Jordan. However, Military Assistance Program funds can be made available for this purpose if the transaction is of sufficient importance to warrant the diversion of funds from other military assistance programs because of overriding political considerations.
- Defense further states that if a political decision is made to supply these aircraft, there are more than adequate numbers of United States F–86 jet fighters available immediately at less than half the cost of the Hawker Hunter. However, Defense will not object to the supply of British aircraft and recommends the Hawker Hunter as the best choice among British aircraft for this purpose.
- Although it would be cheaper to provide American fighter aircraft such as the F–86, we feel that considerations arising from the Arab-Israel dispute and our past refusal to supply United States jet aircraft to Israel would make it preferable for us to avoid placing United States aircraft in either Lebanon or Jordan. Aircraft from a friendly Western power would seem to be preferable and Britain is apparently willing to assume the political risks involved.
- Political considerations applying to both Lebanon and Jordan are so similar that it seems clear that we could not decide to supply the planes to just one of these two countries. If we made the planes available to Lebanon, it would be almost impossible for us to justify a negative response to the Jordanian request, and vice versa. From the economic viewpoint, the major difference is that once planes were [Page 266] made available on a grant basis to Lebanon, there would be some prospect that Lebanon could bear the recurring costs of their maintenance. These costs, so far as Jordan is concerned, would have to be absorbed by a budget which is already being supported primarily by the United States. These recurring costs are estimated at $1 million annually for maintenance and operation of 12 aircraft of the Hawker Hunter type.
- The total cost of a program of 12 Hawker Hunter Mark VI’s for Jordan and 6 for Lebanon is estimated at between $5 and $6 million. This includes an allowance for adequate spares and ground servicing equipment. Procurement would be under standard MAP procedures rather than through financing a commercial transaction as requested by Jordan.
- While the International Cooperation Administration has stated that it has no direct substantive responsibility in this matter or reason to object to the proposed provision of jet aircraft, attention was called to the fact that continuing costs associated with military build-up carry with it a probable requirement for future military assistance and/or defense support from the United States, though not of major magnitude.
- Admittedly, the provision of aircraft to countries which request them primarily for reasons of prestige is a costly business and a risky one so far as its global implications are concerned. The heavy pressures to which these two small pro-Western countries are being submitted, however, incline us to the belief that we should be prepared to do something by way of an affirmative and sympathetic gesture. Both Governments have assumed considerable local and international political risks in maintaining a pro-Western position, and we believe they should be sustained and encouraged by us. We believe that these considerations are overriding and that we should give a favorable response to their requests in this instance. Specifically, we believe we should agree to supply 6 Hawker Hunter Mark VI’s to Lebanon and 12 to Jordan.
- In view of the political considerations outlined above, that you approve in principle our making available 6 Hawker Hunter Mark VI’s to Lebanon and 12 to Jordan at an estimated net cost of $5 to $6 million to be paid from Fiscal 1958 or 1959 military assistance funds.
- Since we do not have bilateral agreements with Lebanon and Jordan containing the assurances required under Section 402(a)3 of the Mutual Security Act, that we be authorized to seek Presidential authority under Section 401 of the Act to waive such requirements and to provide the aircraft requested.
- That, pending completion of Section 401 action, we be authorized to consult with the British regarding price and availability on a contingency basis.
- That we be authorized to inform the Lebanese and Jordanians, also on a contingency basis, that we have agreed in principle to assist them in obtaining a limited number of modern jet fighters. Until details are worked out with the British we would not inform them of the numbers and type we intend to provide.
- That Mr. Dillon be authorized to communicate the above decisions to the Department of Defense and ICA.
- Source: Department of State, Central Files, 785.5622/1–1758. Secret. Sent to the Secretary through Dillon. Drafted in NEA/NE on January 3 by R.B. Parker and cleared with U/MSA, ICA, and ISA in the Department of Defense.↩
- Acting Secretary Herter initialed his approval of each of the recommendations.↩
- Section 401 of the Mutual Security Act of 1954 provided for the establishment of a special fund to be administered by the President, without specific reference to the Congress, when he deemed use of the fund important to the national security. Section 402 of the Act dealt with funding for mutual security purposes derived from the sale of surplus agricultural commodities. (68 Stat. 832, as amended)↩