US approves possible $15 billion THAAD anti-missile system sale to Saudi Arabia | News | DW | 06.10.2017
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US approves possible $15 billion THAAD anti-missile system sale to Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia has agreed to buy the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) missile defense system for $15 billion from the US. Long in the works, the agreement comes a day after King Salman signed a deal with Moscow.

A THAAD test flight interception

A THAAD test flight interception

Saudi Arabia said it would buy 44 Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) launchers and 360 missiles, as well as fire control stations and radars from US contractors. The sale can go ahead if the US Congress does not object within 30 days.

It is part of a $110 billion (€95 billion) arms package that President Donald Trump agreed with the Saudi kingdom during a visit in May.

"This sale furthers US national security and foreign policy interests and supports the long-term security of Saudi Arabia and the Gulf region in the face of Iranian and other regional threats," the State Department said on Friday in a statement.

Pentagon officials reportedly said they didn't think the Russian deal would impact the longstanding defense relationship between the US and Saudi Arabia.

A THAAD rocket launcher

A THAAD rocket launcher

Riyadh bulking up

The State Department approval has come a day after Saudi Arabia agreed to buy S-400 surface-to-air missiles from Russia, reportedly irking Washington. It also follows a similar recent sale by Moscow of the S-400 to Turkey, a NATO ally.

The memorandum of understanding the Saudi king signed with Russian President Vladimir Putin covers the production in Saudi Arabia of Russian anti-tank missiles, rocket launchers and Kalashnikov rifles.

Saudi Arabia is planning a major overhaul of its military and plans to develop a strong domestic defense industry.

It announced earlier this year the formation of Saudi Arabian Military Industries, a state-owned company that will build and repair aircraft, drones, ground vehicles, missiles and radar systems.

The plan is to make the company one of the world's top defense companies by 2030 and employ 40,000 people.

Balance of power

The State Department said it would advise Congress that the THAAD system would stabilize the situation in the Gulf and help defend US forces in the region from growing Iranian missile capability.

"This potential sale will substantially increase Saudi Arabia's capability to defend itself against the growing ballistic missile threat in the region," a statement said.

Iran has one of the biggest ballistic missile programs in the Middle East, viewing it as an essential defense against the US and others, primarily Gulf Arab states and Israel.

What is THAAD?

THAAD is one of the most capable defensive missile batteries in the US arsenal and was recently deployed by the US military in South Korea to protect against a possible North Korean strike. It has already been supplied to Saudi Arabia's neighbors Qatar and the United Arab Emirates.

The main US contractors who will profit from the sale are aerospace giant Lockheed Martin's space systems division and defense contractor Raytheon.

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jbh/jm (Reuters, AFP)

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