Saudi Ara­bia fi­nalises $15bn deal for US high-al­ti­tude mis­sile sys­tem

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Saudi Ara­bia is poised to buy a new $15 bil­lion (Dh55bn) mis­sile de­fence sys­tem from US de­fence com­pany Lock­heed Martin, a US State De­part­ment of­fi­cial an­nounced.

The State De­part­ment said the Saudis and US of­fi­cials signed the let­ters of of­fer and ac­cep­tance doc­u­ments on Mon­day, for­mal­is­ing terms for Saudi’s pur­chase of 44 Ter­mi­nal High Al­ti­tude Area De­fence launch­ers, mis­siles and re­lated equip­ment.

The deal has been un­der dis­cus­sion since 2016 but is now com­pleted, a State De­part­ment spokesman said. Congress ap­proved the sale last year.

A Saudi of­fi­cial told Reuters in Oc­to­ber that US Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump and King Sal­man dis­cussed the deal the pre­vi­ous month in a phone call and that it could be com­pleted by the end of the year.

The deal was one of a small num­ber of agree­ments un­der the much-touted $110bn arms pack­age that is now com­plete.

In re­cent weeks, the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion and the US de­fence in­dus­try have worked to de­fend the deal un­der in­creas­ing scru­tiny of the US-Saudi re­la­tion­ship af­ter the killing of jour­nal­ist Ja­mal Khashoggi.

De­fy­ing the White House, the Se­nate voted on Wed­nes­day to hold a de­bate and vote on US mil­i­tary sup­port for the Saudi-led coali­tion in Ye­men, pos­si­bly within days.

Sec­re­taries of state and de­fence, Mike Pom­peo and James Mat­tis, briefed the Se­nate on Wed­nes­day and urged them to re­ject the bid.

“The suf­fer­ing in Ye­men grieves me, but if the United States of Amer­ica was not in­volved in Ye­men, it would be a hell of a lot worse. What would hap­pen if the US with­drew from the Ye­men ef­fort? Guess what: the war wouldn’t end,” Mr Pom­peo told the Se­nate.

The State De­part­ment of­fi­cial who an­nounced the com­ple­tion of the de­fence deal said the US sup­ports the “long-term se­cu­rity of Saudi Ara­bia and the Gulf re­gion in the face of the grow­ing bal­lis­tic mis­sile threat from the Ira­nian regime and Iran-backed ex­trem­ist groups”.

Iran-backed Houthi rebels have fired hun­dreds of bal­lis­tic mis­siles at Saudi cities this year alone, caus­ing nu­mer­ous ca­su­al­ties and sev­eral fa­tal­i­ties.

Saudi Ara­bia cur­rently has Pa­triot mis­sile de­fence sys­tems in place and they reg­u­larly in­ter­cept Houthi pro­jec­tiles.

As well as the threat from the rebels on their south­ern bor­der, last week Ami­rali Ha­jizadeh, Iran’s Rev­o­lu­tion­ary Guard’s head of airspace divi­sion, said that US bases and al­lies across the Gulf re­gion were well within range of new, more so­phis­ti­cated Ira­nian mis­siles. Other Ira­nian of­fi­cials have di­rectly cau­tioned the Gulf states that they could be a tar­get if there was an armed con­flict with the US.

The UAE op­er­ates two THAAD de­fence sys­tems and in Oc­to­ber Lock­heed Martin was tap­ped for the $129.5 mil­lion (Dh475m) con­tract to main­tain the sys­tems, in­clud­ing “soft­ware and hard­ware de­vel­op­ment, con­trac­tor lo­gis­tics sup­port, en­gi­neer­ing ser­vices and mis­sile field sur­veil­lance”.

Saudi Ara­bia cur­rently has Pa­triot mis­sile sys­tems in place and they reg­u­larly in­ter­cept Houthi pro­jec­tiles

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