Egyptian fighter deal 'dead in the water,' says former DOD official

Because all major foreign weapons sales require lawmakers' blessing, U.S. military officials and diplomats "won't push anything over to [Capitol] Hill that is controversial," Cevasco said regarding past interactions with Congress on international weapons deals. 


While a handful of U.S. weapons sales to foreign countries may endure criticism on Capitol Hill, political opposition the pending F-16 sale to Egypt would put lawmakers "on both sides that dislike each other passionately" on the same side, according to Cevasco. 

"Nobody wants to set that precedent" of congressional obstructionism in future American military sales overseas, he added. 

That said, the Pentagon announced an indefinite delay on the initial deliveries of U.S. warplanes to Egypt in July as internal violence in Egypt was reaching a boiling point. 

The situation eventually boiled over on Wednesday when at least 525 people, including 43 members of the police forces, were killed in government raids against protesters who oppose the removal of Mohamed Morsi, the nation's first freely elected president, and his Muslim Brotherhood government on July 3.

As a result, President Obama announced the cancellation of a large-scale military exercise between American and Egyptian forces, known as Bright Star, on Thursday. 

The annual military drill would have involved hundreds of U.S. ground troops, as well as American warplanes and ships, working in tandem with the Egyptian military and other regional allies. 

Defense Secretary Chuck HagelCharles (Chuck) Timothy HagelInterpreter who helped rescue Biden in 2008 escapes Afghanistan Overnight Defense & National Security — Pentagon chiefs to Congress: Don't default Pentagon chiefs say debt default could risk national security MORE issued his own stern warning to Egyptian Minister of Defense Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, saying his government's actions "are putting important elements of our long-standing defense cooperation at risk." 

However, Cevasco noted the hostile political climate on Capitol Hill to the Egyptian F-16 sale could dissipate as American and European attempt to quietly reconcile ties to Egypt's leaders in the coming months. 

For its part, the Pentagon remains optimistic a deal can be reached with Egypt's military leaders on the fighters and other bilateral defense issues, according to Cevasco. 

But the Obama administration "has to be careful how they say that," he added. 

That careful, conciliatory tone was on display during a press conference at the Pentagon on Thursday. 

Pentagon press secretary George Little defended Hagel's hard-line rhetoric to Sisi, saying the cancellation of the Bright Star exercise and F-16 delay "was, we believe, the right decision at this time." 

Also, the Pentagon and White House are aiming to "maintain a defense cooperation with the Egyptian military, which we've enjoyed for some time," Little said.

"But we're watching to see what happens next in that country," he added.  

Should the F-16 deal end up being canceled outright, jet manufacturer Lockheed Martin should have no problem finding another, politically palatable international buyer for the warplanes, according to one senior defense analyst.

"Those planes will find a home," Gordon Adams, a defense analyst at the Stimson Center, told The Hill on Thursday. With the majority of international air forces fielding the F-16, the fighter jet "is a very sellable plane." 

While the revenues generated by the Egypt sale "would be nice to have," the loss of the deal "will not [hurt] the core of the business," which is focused on U.S.-only fighters like the F-22 Raptor and F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. 

The biggest winners of a failed F-16 sale to Egypt will be other foreign militaries looking to bolster their fleets with new fighters, Cevasco added. 

Lockheed Martin officials will likely take the fighters originally destined for Cairo and assemble a new foreign military sale package and sell them to another foreign force for a fraction of what the Egyptian deal was worth, he said.

Put simply, Lockheed would be forced to "make [foreign militaries] an offer you cannot refuse," he said.