By CASSANDRA VINOGRAD, Associated Press
LONDON (AP) — British Prime Minister David Cameron hinted that more U.K. troops could be stationed in the Gulf as he welcomed news Friday that BAE Systems has won a 2.5 billion pound ($4.1 billion) deal with Oman for 20 aircraft.
BAE said Oman has signed the contract for 12 Typhoon fighter jets and eight Hawk aircraft, with deliveries expected to start in 2017.
Cameron called the BAE deal a "testament to Britain's leading aerospace industry" as he visited Oman on Friday, saying it will safeguard "thousands of jobs across the U.K."
The U.K. prime minister has made recent visits to Gulf states to spur British arms sales. Last month, he visited Dubai and Abu Dhabi, where he sought to persuade the United Arab Emirates to buy Typhoons instead of French fighter jets.
On Friday, he said the Oman deal — and the possibility of contracts with the U.A.E. — are boosts to Britain's defense industry, and possibly also to military cooperation in the region.
"What you are seeing significantly in the UAE is not just a plan to sell Typhoon aircraft but a big, significant defense cooperation which could, yes, lead to more British troops stationed in that country," he said, calling it an "exciting possibility" for both countries to have a proper strategic defense relationship and partnership.
Western nations have been seeking to secure arms deals in the region, seeing weapons sales there as crucial to their economies but also to bolstering defenses against a possibly nuclear-armed Iran.
At the same time, Gulf states have been on an arms-buying spree, beefing up their arsenals and upgrading firepower and defensive networks amid growing concerns about Iran and the possibility of military action against Tehran.
Any larger troop presence, ushered in by increased cooperation resulting from the latest arms deals, could allay some of those concerns on both sides by installing a frontline buffer against Iran.
The U.K. already has forces in the region. The U.S. has about 15,000 troops in Kuwait, plus scores of warplanes and other assets across the Gulf, including air bases in the U.A.E. and Saudi Arabia.
Oman in particular has critical strategic significance — it shares control with Iran of the Strait of Hormuz, the route for about one-fifth of the world's oil.
BAE said the deal announced Friday covers the supply of the aircraft and in-service support, BAE added, saying the deal supports its strategy to grow its international markets and export business.
It is the latest in a series of contracts to Oman for BAE: the country currently operates Jaguar fighter aircraft and trains pilots on an earlier variant of the BAE Systems Hawk, the defense giant said.
The deal will make the Gulf nation the seventh country to use the Eurofighter Typhoon jet, which is built by a consortium of European aerospace companies.
Cameron dismissed concerns about U.K. arms to the Gulf region, saying boosting exports is vital for Britain's economic growth.
"Every country in the world has a right to self-defense and I'm determined to put Britain's first-class defense industry at the forefront of this market," he said.
Associated Press writer Brian Murphy in Dubai contributed to this report. Cassandra Vinograd can be reached at http://twitter.com/CassVinograd
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