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