Behind the Scenes: The Saudi-U.S. Arms Deal

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U.S. President Donald Trump (center L) walks with Saudi Arabia's King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud (center R) to deliver remarks to the Arab Islamic American Summit in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia May 21, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

Has Trump taken credit for Obama’s weapons’ sales?

By Awad Mustafa

The single largest military deal in American history signed on Saturday, May 20th in Riyadh may have appeared as a foreign policy coup for U.S. President Donald Trump.

However the deal was a coup for Saudi Arabia as its military has been undergoing a major renewal and upgrade of its equipment.

The majority of the deals signed were finalized during the Obama administration, but have only just come in effect, including a massive naval fleet replacement pursued by Saudi Arabia since 2008.

Major purchases include the Terminal High Altitude Air Defense (THAAD) system to be supplied by Lockheed, making Saudi Arabia the third GCC customer after the United Arab Emirates and Oman; and a $6 billion purchase agreement to buy four Littoral Combat Ships also made by Lockheed and the local design, manufacture and support of armored combat vehicles by General Dynamics.

“The announcement of KSA’s LCS purchase has been a long time coming, at form the apex of the Saudi Naval Enhancement Program II,” Said Matthew hedges an Advisor to U.S. firm Gulf State Analytics.

The LCS is optimally suited to patrol KSA’s gulf’s shallow waters and are intended to not only enhance the Saudi naval capability, provide jobs, but also send a message to Tehran that Saudi Arabia is serious about repelling Iranian aggression in the Gulf, Hedges said.

Furthermore the new announcement for Saudi Arabia’s purchase of THAAD further strengthens the GCC’s regional missile defense capabilities.

“The THAAD purchase represents a significant attempt to fortify the GCC against, predominantly Iranian ballistiv missile threats,” he said.

The purchases that were agreed before the Trump administration include the assembly of Sikorsky S-70 BLACK HAWK helicopters in the Kingdom.

The agreement, signed on February 23 last year, outlines investment in technology and skills needed to establish production jobs for Saudi citizens between Sikorsky and Taqnia Aeronautics according to a statement by Lockheed Martin.

“Entering into this agreement will give Taqnia Aeronautics the foundation to create a helicopter assembly operation in Saudi Arabia and assist in developing local content”, said Major General (retired) Ali Al Ghamdi, Taqnia Aeronautics CEO.

In February 2015 the Saudi Royal Naval Forces sent a letter of request (LoR) detailing requirements for the Eastern Fleet replacement program to the U.S. Navy.

The Saudi Naval Expansion Program, a project that could be worth as much as $16 billion, has been a fierce competition between French suppliers, who support Saudi Arabia’s western, or Red Sea fleet, and the U.S.

According to the LoR the Kingdom outlined four 3,500-ton “frigate-like warships” capable of anti-air warfare, armed with an eight-to-16-cell vertical launch system (VLS) capable of launching Standard SM-2 missiles; fitted with an “Aegis or like” combat system using “SPY-1F or similar” radars; able to operate Sikorsky MH-60R helicopters; with a speed of 35 knots.

Six 2,500-ton warships with combat systems compatible with the frigates, able to operate MH-60R helos.

20 to 24 fast patrol vessels about 40 to 45 meters long, powered by twin diesel engines. 10 “maritime helicopters”with characteristics identical to the MH-60R.

Three maritime patrol aircraft for coastal surveillance and 30 to 50 UAVs, some for maritime use, some to be shore-based.

The Boeing P-8A Poseidon was earmarked since 2015. The P8 is a submarine hunter, electronic warfare capable maritime aircraft.

A deal for the purchase of 48 CH-47 Chinook cargo helicopters from boeing as well has been cleared by Congress in December last year and includes 112 engines, 58 AN/AAR-57 Common Missile Warning Systems, 48 M240H 7.62mm machine guns and other assorted equipment at the cost of $3.51 billion.

“The multibillion arms purchases by Riyadh look to build upon the former offset successes and the discourse paid to investment and diversification in Saudi Arabia under King Salman’s Vsion 2030,”Hedges said.

“Previous projects have created jobs and brought investment and technology in Saudi Arabia, and these deals look set to replicate this model”.

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