US approves $15bn sale of anti-missile THAAD system to Saudi Arabia

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Weapons sales to Saudi Arabia face increasing scrutiny from lawmakers and rights campaigners in Washington

THAAD launchpad in South Korea seen in US State Department handout photo (Reuters)
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The US State Department has approved the possible sale of a Terminal High Altitude Area Defence (THAAD) anti-missile defence system to Saudi Arabia at an estimated cost of $15b, the Pentagon said on Friday.

The proposed sale "will support the foreign policy and national security objectives of the United States by improving the security of a friendly country" and will not alter the basic military balance in the region, the Pentagon's Defense Security Cooperation agency said in a statement.

Lockheed Martin and Raytheon are the principal contractors for THAAD.

The United States has been the main supplier for most Saudi military needs in recent years, from F-15 fighter jets to command-and-control systems worth tens of billions of dollars.

But Saudi Arabia agreed to buy a Russian S-400 air defence system, Saudi-owned al-Arabiya television reported on Thursday, on the sidelines of a visit by King Salman to Moscow.

The Dubai-based television channel also said that Saudi Arabia had signed a memorandum of understanding to help the kingdom in its efforts to develop its own military industries.

US President Donald Trump has vowed to stimulate the US economy by boosting manufacturing jobs.
 
During a visit to Riyadh in May, Trump announced a $110b arms deal with Saudi Arabia and other investments that would total up to $350b. But the sales agreements were initial letters of interest, not official contracts.

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UN blacklists Saudi-led coalition for killing children in Yemen

The Barack Obama administration had offered Saudi Arabia more than $115b in weapons. Most of the Obama-era offers, which are reported to Congress, became formal agreements, though some were abandoned or amended.

Weapon sales to Saudi Arabia have been facing increasing scrutiny from lawmakers and rights campaigners in Washington after alleged abuses by the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen.