$1.4b in Defense Contracts Approved by State Department as Senate Eyes Debate

The U.S. State Department has approved the potential sale of more than $1.4 billion worth of military training and equipment for Saudi Arabia, the Pentagon said on Monday, the first fraction of a $110 billion arms deal U.S. President Donald Trump agreed to with Saudi Arabia when he visited in May.

The announcement by the State Department includes two deals – a $662 million State Department approval which included 26 AN/TPQ-53(V) Radar Systems, made by Lockheed Martin, as well as ammunition, trucks and technical support, and a $750 million “blanket order training program” contract, according to Reuters.

The announcement comes as the U.S. Senate considers taking up a debate on the proposed Saudi arms sales this week. According to Politico, Sens. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) may use the Iran bill discussion this week as a vehicle to force a vote on their resolution blocking about $500 million in Trump-blessed weapons sales to Saudi Arabia.

GCC forces conduct an operation in Bahrain in October.

GCC forces conduct an operation in Bahrain in October.

Whether you agree or disagree that sending more weapons to the Royal Saudi Air Force is a good idea, surely it’s wise and prudent for Congress to assert itself and actually conduct a debate on this issue before the package is finalized,” writes Daniel DePetris in The Hill. “Selling and delivering advanced warheads, F-15 aircraft, naval vessels, and missile defense systems is a serious matter given how these weapons and platforms may be used in a conflict.”

While the announcement today by the State Department of the proposed sales is likely the first of many under President Trump, commentator on Saudi and regional affairs Bruce Riedel, writing for the Brookings Institution’s website, called the $110 billion U.S.-Saudi military sales deals “fake news.”

“I’ve spoken to contacts in the defense business and on the Hill, and all of them say the same thing: There is no $110 billion deal. Instead, there are a bunch of letters of interest or intent, but not contracts. Many are offers that the defense industry thinks the Saudis will be interested in someday. So far nothing has been notified to the Senate for review. The Defense Security Cooperation Agency, the arms sales wing of the Pentagon, calls them ‘intended sales.’ None of the deals identified so far are new, all began in the Obama administration.”

“Moreover, it’s unlikely that the Saudis could pay for a $110 billion deal any longer, due to low oil prices and the two-plus years old war in Yemen,” Riedel writes.