240. Memorandum From the Director of the Office of Near Eastern Affairs (Davies) to the Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern and South Asian Affairs (Talbot)1


  • Sale of Advanced Aircraft and Hawk Missiles to Saudi Arabia


We are faced with some apparent Saudi distrust of the honesty of our recommendations in the Air Defense Survey that they purchase Northrop F-5 or Lockheed F-104H aircraft rather than the electronically more complex F-104G. They also suspect our advice against their purchasing Hawk surface-to-air missiles (SAMs) at this time. The problem is compounded by heavy British and French sales efforts, including offers to supply advanced aircraft, three-dimensional radar, SAMs, and pilots to fly the aircraft even on war-time missions. This is coupled with Saudi uncertainty about our willingness to support US equipment, if they should select it, in view of our position concerning their reinvolvement in Yemen. It is thus feared that they will accept the French or British offers. The result would be a significant set-back for our long-term position of primacy in Saudi Arabia and would have adverse repercussions on our gold-flow difficulties. To meet this threat it has been proposed that we alter our offers to the Saudis to indicate willingness to supply more advanced equipment.


The Saudis have still made no decision on purchase of the aircraft and ground environment systems recommended in our 1963 Air Defense Survey. The Saudi Minister of Defense recently informed us that his choices of aircraft were, in order, F-104G, British Lightning, French Mirage, F-5, and F-104H. We had recommended only the latter two, and had advised the Saudis that, in terms of their needs, the F-5 was probably the most suitable. The F-104G is much more expensive to purchase and maintain and would give them an unnecessary low-level attack bombing capability. Similarly, for reasons of economy of money and trained manpower, we have been reluctant to see them purchase SAMs at this stage in their development.

The Minister of Defense also asked us for advanced air-to-air missiles (the Sparrow), which are precluded from sale to the Saudis for [Page 465]security reasons, and requested a further US evaluation team to review current US offers, and possibly, at a later date, those of the British and French. We see little point to such an exercise, although would be willing to comply if the Saudis continue to request it.

While we could not meet the reported British and French offers to supply pilots to fly the aircraft in combat, we are able immediately to deliver a squadron of twelve F-5’s and train present Saudi jet pilots so that the Saudis themselves could have their own combat group in six months’ time.

Another element is the report from a Northrop representative that Faisal would like an aircraft-missile combination, such as the F-5/Hawk package, for internal political purposes. With the planes in the hands of the Air Force and the missiles under Army control, all of his air defense would not be in the hands of a single service in case of defections. Both services would also be mollified at receiving advanced equipment. Northrop is preparing such a combined proposal for presentation to the Saudis if US Government approval is given.

The economic and technical arguments against advising the Saudis to obtain SAMs or the F-104G still appear valid. However, the US went on public record following announcement of the Hawk sale to Israel that it would also consider selling Hawks to the Arab countries. There is also a very good possibility that if we dispel Saudi suspicions by making a clear statement of our willingness to sell the F-104G, Hawks and three-dimensional radar, and couple it with a specific recommendation from us for less complicated equipment, they will accept our recommendation.

Any offer such as this would have to be accompanied by the clear caveat that much of the equipment (e.g., components of the Hawk, F-104G and the radar) is subject to US security controls. Its sale would be subject to Saudi agreement to a US security survey and compliance with security measures set forth in such a survey. (We should honestly recognize that these requirements might ultimately prevent consummation of sale of much of the equipment.)

In view of the numerous representations we have made to the British against selling SAMs to the Saudis, some difficulty from them might be expected. However, their specific statement to us on January 4 (see Deptel 319, attached)2 that they had reassured the Saudis of their willingness to license the sale of Thunderbird missiles (SAMs) should relieve us of any obligation to them.

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Peter Solbert has requested a meeting with you in the next few days to discuss this subject. It is suggested that we and Col. Bunte brief you orally in advance of such a meeting.


It is recommended:3

That you approve as the NEA position for discussion with DOD and other interested Department Bureaus our telling the Saudis, preferably at the Faisal level, that (a) to dispel any questions they may have we are willing to sell them the F-104G, three-dimensional radar, Sidewinders and Hawk missiles if they so desire; (b) sales of much of this equipment to any country in the world, including Saudi Arabia, are subject to a US security survey of the country and Saudi compliance with the security measures recommended in that survey; (c) our strong and specific recommendation in view of Saudi capabilities and requirements is that they purchase the Northrop F-5; (d) we will support whatever equipment is purchased with spares, training assistance and other appropriate services; (e) our original Air Defense Survey represents an honest US view of what the Saudis need and are able to maintain and operate, but if the King still desires further evaluation group study we will accede to his wishes.
That you approve the attached draft cable for coordination with Defense.
  1. Source: Department of State, NEA/NE Files: Lot 69 D 547, Defense Affairs, Saudi Arabia, 1965. Secret. Drafted by Moore and cleared by Bunte.
  2. Document 237.
  3. Talbot initialed his approval of both recommendations.