Lockheed Martin Corp. and federal officials have been talking with Saudi Arabia about selling the desert kingdom several billion dollars' worth of F-16 fighter planes, officials said yesterday.
One source familiar with the arrangement said Saudi Arabia had reached a tentative agreement to buy up to 100 planes.
The Washington Times reported such a deal yesterday and quoted a price of $30 billion, a price that the source questioned, saying it "sounds awfully high."
Officials at the State Department, the Pentagon and Lockheed Martin cautioned that no formal agreement had been reached.
"This is way premature," said Norman Robbins, a spokesman for Lockheed Martin's Tactical Aircraft Systems division in Fort Worth, Texas, where the F-16 is built.
Robbins said the company had had a license from the government for several years to market the F-16 in Saudi Arabia.
But any potential transaction will be "reached through government-to-government discussions, and those are ongoing," he said.
Pentagon spokesman Kenneth Bacon said yesterday that the United States had provided pricing information about the planes to Saudi Arabia as that country looks to modernize an air force of 1970s-vintage F-5 fighters.
"We do not have any formal request or proposal from the government of Saudi Arabia about purchasing F-16s," Bacon said.
A State Department official also said that, while "we've been talking with the Saudis a long time about upgrading their air force no formal request is before us at this point."
Saudi Arabia has ordered several F-15s from McDonnell Douglas Corp. over the last few years but owns no F-16s.
The F-15 is an air superiority fighter that serves to clear the skies of enemy planes. The more versatile F-16 follows the F-15 into battle and can bomb targets on the ground. Lockheed Martin has produced more than 3,500 of the jets.
The Saudi government plans a high-level state visit sometime next month, sources said.
One source said the F-16 announcement was planned for that visit.
Pub Date: 1/31/97