US Allows Qatar to Buy F-15s — and Seals a $19B Sale of Jetliners

An F-15E Strike Eagle takes off.

Officials deny linking the military and commercial deals, but insiders say otherwise.

The White House’s recent decision to allow the sale of F-15 fighter jets to Qatar helped to seal the $18.6 billion purchase of 100 Boeing jetliners announced Friday by Qatar Airways, according to people with knowledge of the deal.

Executives with Boeing and state-owned Qatar Airways denied links between the military and commercial sales.

“The Qatar Airways has its independent policy of ordering airplanes,” CEO Akbar Al Baker said when asked whether the two sales were connected. “So nothing is attached to anything.”

But the jetliner deal — which has been under negotiation for months — was finalized less than two weeks after the Obama administration approved the 36 F-15 fighter jets for Qatar on Sept. 28, people close to the agreement say.

The up-to-$4 billion fighter jet deal has been in the works for years, but has reportedly been on hold while the U.S. negotiated a 10-year, $38 billion security package with Israel. Israel has reportedly raised objections to Qatar buying F-15s.

Last week, White House officials informally told members of Congress that the F-15 sale would get approval, but the State Department and Pentagon have yet to formally announce the deal, which reportedly has options for up to 72 fighters. Boeing builds the F-15 in St. Louis.

Meanwhile, Qatar Airways and Boeing executives called the commercial airliner deal historic.

“Today’s announcement really exemplifies the benefits of a global partnership and how trade and innovation go hand-in-hand in an increasingly interconnected world to make it a better and a safer place,” said Ray Conner, president and CEO of Boeing Commercial Airplanes.

The airliner deal includes the purchase of 30 787-9 Dreamliners and 10 777-ER aircraft, valued at $11.7 billion, according to Boeing. The twin-engine planes are used on long-haul, intercontinental routes. Qatar also signed a “letter of intent” for 60 737 MAX 8 aircraft, which are used for shorter regional flights, worth $6.9 billion. Finalizing that deal would be a huge score for Boeing; currently, Qatar Airways flies only European-made Airbus single-aisle planes on these regional routes.

Conner said the deal would affect 104,000 jobs across America, not just in the Seattle area where Boeing builds commercial aircraft.

Boeing and Qatar Airways consummated the sale Friday at a lavish signing ceremony at the Four Seasons hotel in Washington. VIPs in attendance included Anthony Blinken, the deputy secretary of state and former deputy national security adviser to President Obama; and Qatar Finance Minister Ali Shareef Al Emadi. Blinken and Al Emadi sat on the dais with Conner and Al Baker, but left before a question-and-answer session with journalists.

“A critical and steadfast partner to the United States, Qatar has always played an outside diplomatic and strategic role in its own region, but also increasingly beyond,” Blinken said. “It’s an influential contributor to political, security and economic progress in the Middle East and we are proud of our deepening cooperation on a very diverse range of issues.”

Blinken also touted Qatar’s participation in the U.S.-led coalition of nations fighting the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. The deal “will bring us even closer together,” he said.

Al Baker noted that Qatar is home to Al Udeid Air Base, the location of U.S. Air Forces Central Command’s combined air and space operations center, which oversees the airstrike campaign against ISIS.

“Qatar is a very strong ally of the United States,” he said. “This relationship will only get stronger, but has no relation to Boeing or Qatar Airways or Qatar’s aircraft orders that we placed today.”

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