Saudi Arabia will not receive bomb racks for its F15 fighter planes from the Carter administration but might get extra fuel tanks or tanker planes to extend their range, government officials indicated yesterday.
President Carter himself made the no-bomb-racks pledge in an interview the White House distributed on Friday. Said Carter to Clifford Evans of RKO General Broadcasting:
"There will be absolutely no change in the assurance given to the Congress in 1978 by Secretary Harold Brown, acting under my instructions, on the sale of F15s to the Saudi Arabians. In accordance with those assurances, we will not agree to provide offensive capabilities for the planes that might be used against Israel. And that obviously includes bomb racks."
The president's remarks came shortly after Pentagon spokesman Thomas B. Ross said that the Defense Department had been studying since September Saudi requests for equipment to upgrade their F15s.
The Saudis want bomb racks, extra tanks to extend the F15s' range, tanker planes for aerial refueling and the AIM9L air-to-air missile to upgrade their fleet of 60 fighters to be delivered between late 1981 and 1983.
For defending Saudi oil fields, military officials said, it would make sense to equip the F15s with extra fuel tanks and/or tankers so they could stay up longer. This would be a defensive improvement, they reasoned, not an offensive one that should worry Israel.
But Carter is taking no chances, apparently, about alarming Jewish voters between now and Election Day. His assurances about the Saudi F15s have been underlined by his aides.
At the State Department yesterday, spokesman John Trattner told reporters that "you can assume no decision has been made" on the Saudi request for equipment to upgrade their F15s. State officials indicated that bomb racks were definitely out but fuel tanks and tankers are live possibilities.