New Australian fighters to get top US weapons

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WASHINGTON, Oct 5 (Reuters) The Bush administration has proposed to sell Australia a weapons package valued at up to 617 million dollars for a new fleet of 24 Boeing Co F/A-18E/F Super Hornet aircraft.

Notification of the proposed deal was sent to Congress Thursday by the Pentagon's Defense Security Cooperation Agency, which handles US government-to-government arms sales.

Australia is seeking 43 Raytheon Co -built AIM-9X Sidewinder air combat missiles, 50 AGM-154 air-to-surface Joint Standoff Weapons and 18 AN/ASQ-228 Advanced Targeting Forward-Looking Infrared pods, the announcement said.

The pods are designed to pinpoint targets on the ground by day or night. Also included would be 24 sets of radio frequency countermeasures, 90 helmet-mounted weapons-cueing systems and related gear valued at 617 million dollars if all options are exercised.

''Australia's efforts in peacekeeping and humanitarian operations have made a significant impact to regional political and economic stability and have served US national security interests,'' the Pentagon's notice said.

On May 3, Australia signed a contract to acquire 24 Super Hornet fighter/attack aircraft at a projected cost of 4.6 billion dollars, including training and support over 10 years, becoming the jet's first foreign buyer.

The notice of a potential arms sale is required by law. It does not mean a sale has been concluded. Congress has the power to block an arms deal but rarely does so.

REUTERS SBA AS0250

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