200. Memorandum From Secretary of Defense Brown to President Carter1


  • Saudi Arabia: Munitions for their F–5 Aircraft

I understand that you have chosen the option that would allow us to sell 850 Maverick missiles vice 916 and 1,000 Laser-Guided Bombs (LGBs) vice 3,435 to Saudi Arabia to equip their F–5 aircraft. You would permit us to sell the numbers of AIM–9 Sidewinder air-to-air missiles and CBUs that we proposed. However, I understand that you are open to a reclama on the Mavericks and LGBs.

I strongly recommend you restore the higher numbers of Mavericks and LGBs Cy and I originally proposed. The Department of Defense carefully worked out those numbers in a militarily justifiable way, defensible both with the Congress and with Saudi Arabia. Failure to provide adequate munitions will only reinforce the Saudi [Page 652] view that we make decisions about their security needs primarily on political grounds, and thus the irritant in our relations we are trying to remove will be perpetuated. (The Saudis would inevitably know the numbers have been reduced, either through press leaks or Congress claiming credit for forcing reductions. Also, in explaining the numbers to the Saudis, DOD would be unable to defend successfully from a military point of view the lower numbers proposed.)

The cut of Mavericks from 916 to 850 is miniscule, but the higher number results from a military calculation. To cut it for other reasons undermines the credibility of our overall case.

With regard to LGBs, I understand that ACDA claims that the sale of 3,435 (vice the 1,000 they recommend) would upset the military balance in the Middle East and constitute a threat to Israel. I do not believe this to be the case:

—Israel has emphasized acquisition of CBUs (27,330 delivered) vice LGBs (1,500 on order), because they have a different concept for use of their air force in the air-to-ground role from the one we have persuaded the Saudis to use. Israel emphasizes interdiction and suppression of air defense sites, for which CBUs are appropriate, and relies on its ground forces to stop attacking columns. Saudi Arabia is going to have to use air power defensively against attacking ground forces, which have penetrated Saudi territory, for which LGBs are more appropriate, because of the small size of the Saudi ground forces and the vast distances they would have to travel to meet an attack.

—Saudi LGBs would not enter “the balance” in the Middle East. On Saudi F–5 aircraft, their use is essentially constrained to within Saudi territory, given the range limitations of the F–5, especially with a bomb load. Even from a forward base, such as Tabuk, they can reach only part way into the Negev. Moreover, to attack Israel would bring great retaliation back upon them; they would surely lose any conflict with Israel. Also, we do not believe Saudi F–5s can be efficiently operated from another country, e.g., Jordan, due to lack of support personnel and facilities. LGBs cannot be effectively used on Jordanian F–5s (we have refused Jordan that capability) nor on any other aircraft in the area. (The exception is Egypt’s F–4s—but Egypt is on our side, and will remain so as long as our current policies in that quarter continue to be successful.)

In summary, I believe that 916 Mavericks and 3,435 LGBs are militarily justified for Saudi Arabia, and would provide an efficient capability for an air force of modest size. Selling numbers that are less than militarily justified will continue the irritant in our relations, impacting other aspects of our relationship, and lead to further requests.

We have consulted thoroughly with Congress on these numbers of munitions. We did not run into strong opposition to this sale. We [Page 653] believe it highly unlikely that anyone in Congress will step forward at this time to introduce a resolution in opposition to the sale, or to change the numbers proposed.

Cy Vance agrees that the higher number of Mavericks and LGBs should be notified to Congress. He tells me that John West underscored very heavily to him the critical importance the Saudis attach to these items. West is convinced that, even if Congress were to reduce the numbers below those proposed (which, as indicated above, we believe highly unlikely) that would be much better than to have the number reduced by the Executive Branch.2

Harold Brown
  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Brzezinski Material, Country File, Box 67, Saudi Arabia: 8–11/79. Secret. Brzezinski’s November 15 covering memorandum transmitted Brown’s memorandum and requested Carter’s approval of the full complement of Mavericks and LGBs. In a November 13 memorandum to Brzezinski, sent through Albright, Sick and Kimmitt recommended that Brzezinski “support the Brown reclama.” Aaron added the following handwritten notation on Sick and Kimmitt’s memorandum: “ZB—Do you want to add that this is a particularly good time to get this issue resolved in a way most reassuring to the Saudis who are nervous about the Iran situation in general and the asset freeze in particular. DA.” A handwritten notation indicates that Brzezinski’s November 15 memorandum to Carter was retyped to include Aaron’s suggested language. (Ibid.)
  2. Carter indicated his approval on Brzezinski’s November 15 memorandum (see footnote 1 above). In a November 16 memorandum to Vance and Brown, Brzezinski informed them of Carter’s decision. (Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Brzezinski Material, Country File, Box 67, Saudi Arabia: 8–11/79)