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Political considerations aside, the US Air Force can't wait to get AWACS into Saudi hands. Without the radar planes, say defense officials, the Royal Saudi Air Force has two minutes to identify hostile aircraft sweeping in over the gulf and scramble its own fighters.

In the five minutes it takes the Saudis to get their interceptors airborne, attacking aircraft, streaking in "on the deck" at speeds of between 400 and 600 knots, will have bombed the oil fields and raced for home.

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With AWACS, these officials explain, enemy figh ters -- even those flying low -- will be detected 150 miles out and intercepted well before they reach their targets.m

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