The Obama administration has quietly drawn up plans to provide a key Persian Gulf ally with thousands of advanced "bunker-buster" bombs and other munitions, part of a stepped-up U.S. effort to build a regional coalition to counter Iran, the Wall Street Journal reported.
The proposed sale to the United Arab Emirates would vastly expand the existing capabilities of the country's air force to target fixed structures, which could include bunkers and tunnels-the kind of installations where Iran is believed to be developing weapons.
The proposed package for U.A.E. is expected to be formally presented to Congress in the coming days and would authorize the sale of up to 4,900 joint direct attack munitions, or JDAMs, along with other weapons systems.
The Obama administration is trying to build up the six members of the Gulf Cooperation Council, which comprises Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Oman, Qatar, U.A.E. and Kuwait, as a unified counterweight to Iran.
In recent months, the U.S. has begun holding a regular strategic dialogue with the GCC bloc. And the Pentagon has been trying to improve intelligence-sharing and military compatibility among the six countries.
Recent arms deals include a record $60 billion plan to sell Saudi Arabia advanced F-15 aircraft, some to be equipped 2,000-pound JDAMs and other powerful munitions. The Pentagon recently notified Congress of plans to sell Stinger missiles and medium-range, air-to-air missiles to Oman.
The U.S. has also sought to build up missile-defense systems across the region, with the goal of building an integrated network to defend against short- and intermediate-range ballistic missiles from Iran.
The U.A.E. has a large fleet of advanced U.S.-made F-16 fighters that could carry the bunker-busters. The U.A.E. currently has several hundred JDAMs in its arsenal, and the 4,900 in the new proposal would represent a massive buildup, officials said.
The U.A.E.'s fighters, equipped with JDAMs and other munitions, would have "a decisive edge" over Iran's fleet of aged planes, said Anthony Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies. "Iran has to take the U.A.E. seriously," Mr. Cordesman said.
JDAMs are made by Boeing Co., though such a sale would be facilitated by the U.S. government. Major proposed arms deals aren't made public until after Congress receives formal written notification from the administration that includes estimated cost and specific systems that would be included. A Pentagon spokesman declined to comment on the proposed sale. The U.A.E.'s U.S. ambassador also didn't comment.
Once the administration announces the proposed sale, lawmakers can try to block the deal by passing legislation.
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said on Thursday that a nuclear-armed Iran was unacceptable to the U.S. and its allies. But he said using force was clearly "a last resort" and could have unintended consequences-casting some doubt on the U.S. willingness to launch a military strike on Iran. A strike on Iran "could have a serious impact in the region and it could have a serious impact on U.S. forces in the region," he said.