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U.S. preparing massive arms deal for Saudi Arabia, defense official says

By Barbara Starr, CNN Pentagon Correspondent
The proposed package includes 70 Apache helicopters.
The proposed package includes 70 Apache helicopters.
  • The $60 billion deal would include fighter planes, helicopters and high-tech bombs
  • A large aim of such sales is to provide capability against Iran, the official says
  • The deal must go before Congress before being finalized

Washington (CNN) -- The Obama administration is preparing to notify Congress of plans to sell $60 billion of military equipment to Saudi Arabia, according to a U.S. defense official.

The official, who would not be identified because the proposal has not yet been sent to Congress, described the deal as "enormous."

"We believe this is the largest of its kind in history," the official said.

Congress would have to approve the deal.

The proposed package includes 84 newly manufactured F-15/SA fighter aircraft; 70 upgraded aircraft, 70 Apache helicopters, 72 Black Hawk helicopters, and 36 AH-6 Little Bird helicopters. A number of bombs and missiles also are in the deal, including the Joint Direct Attack Munition, a satellite-guided bomb, as well as a laser-guided Hellfire missile variant and some advanced targeting technology.

The Saudi arms effort is in large part directed at providing a modernized capability against Iran.

"This gives them a whole host of defensive and deterrent capabilities," the official explained.

The official emphasized that nothing in the sale would change the qualitative edge that Israel seeks to maintain. A point reiterated by State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley.

"Suffice it to say that at the core of our policy is making sure that, you know, there is stability in the region and part of that stability is making sure that Israel has what it needs ... to be able to provide for its own security," Crowley said Monday. "So the United States would do nothing that would upset that -- the current ... balance in the region."

The Obama administration hopes to send the proposed package to Capitol Hill no later than next week. The official emphasized it's not clear yet whether the Saudis would follow through to buy all of the weapons and aircraft in the package because they are continuing to evaluate their own financial concerns.

Boeing Corp. has told the administration that if the entire package is sold, 77,000 company jobs would be "involved," but there was no calculation on how many new jobs might be created over the five- to 10-year period of potential delivery, according to the official.

The official also indicated the United States is discussing with the Saudi government additional sales of a ballistic missile defense system and more modern warships.