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The Marine Corps is set to announce plans on Thursday to award the next generation of stealth fighter jets to Saudi Arabia, the first step in a program that will eventually include dozens of aircraft.
The announcement is expected to come at a time when U.S. President Donald Trump is pushing for a $110 billion arms deal with the Saudi regime.
The Saudis want $100 billion in arms sales to counter Iran, and are reportedly prepared to buy up to 90,000 of the stealth jets, which are already being manufactured.
The Pentagon, which is reviewing the deal, is likely to request a certification from the State Department that the planes meet a set of criteria to get the deal.
The U.N. Security Council must approve the sale.
The planes are designed to be stealthy, able to carry up to 12,000 pounds of bombs, with stealthy cruise missiles and a range of 500 miles.
The Saudi Arabia is one of the top suppliers of jet fighters in the world.
The program is being led by Lockheed Martin Corp. and is the subject of a review by the Pentagon’s Office of the Inspector General.
The Pentagon is expected on Thursday announce the final contract award.
The deal, which was first announced by Defense Secretary Jim Mattis last month, is aimed at cutting the cost of stealth aircraft and could ultimately lead to hundreds of billions of dollars in new arms sales.
The United States is in talks with other Gulf countries to buy more than 2,000 F-15 fighter jets.
The next generation F-35s will be produced in about two years, with the first planes delivered in 2020.
The F-16s are expected to be in production by 2019.
The planes are intended to replace the F-22 and F-18, which have been in service for about 20 years.