The Cable

Saudi Dropping Billions on U.S. and Russian Military Hardware

It’s one part of Trump’s $110 billion deal with Riyadh.

Russian S-400 air defence missile systems roll at Red Square during the Victory Day military parade in Moscow on May 9, 2016.
Russia marks the 71st anniversary of the Soviet Union's victory over Nazi Germany in World War II. / AFP / KIRILL KUDRYAVTSEV        (Photo credit should read KIRILL KUDRYAVTSEV/AFP/Getty Images)
Russian S-400 air defence missile systems roll at Red Square during the Victory Day military parade in Moscow on May 9, 2016. Russia marks the 71st anniversary of the Soviet Union's victory over Nazi Germany in World War II. / AFP / KIRILL KUDRYAVTSEV (Photo credit should read KIRILL KUDRYAVTSEV/AFP/Getty Images)

One more piece of President Donald Trump’s much-hyped arms sales to Saudi Arabia came into focus on Friday when the State Department announced a $15 billion sale of forty-four Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) systems to the kingdom.

The deal has long been in the works, and comes just a day after King Salman irked Washington by announcing a big arms deal with the Kremlin, which includes the advanced S-400 long-range air defense system.

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

The new cooperation on defense equipment took the Pentagon by surprise, though officials said they didn’t think this would impact the longstanding defense relationship between the two countries. “We have concerns about the purchasing of the S-400 systems,” said Pentagon spokesman Eric Pahon, primarily because it undermines American efforts to shepherd the Gulf states into collaborating on a regional missile defense system to counter the growing Iranian ballistic missile threat.  

The Saudi deal with Russia arrives on the heels of a similar sale of the S-400 to Turkey, a NATO ally.

During a May trip to Saudi Arabia, Trump announced a $110 billion arms deal for new tanks, ships, missiles, and other military equipment. Many of the pending contracts were  originally entered into under the Obama administration, but have been to be completed. But the Trump leam lumped all pending deals under one banner.

Friday’s announcement includes 360 interceptor missiles and seven radar.

The new deals coincides with a major push by Rydiah to revamp its military and begin building a domestic defense industry. Before Trump’s visit, the kingdom announced the formation of Saudi Arabian Military Industries, a government-owned defense company that will build and repair aircraft, drones, ground vehicles, missiles, and radar systems.

The plan, as the government envisions it, is to build the company into one of the world’s top defense companies by 2030 and employ 40,000 people.

Paul McLeary is Foreign Policy’s senior reporter covering the U.S. Defense Department and national security issues. @paulmcleary

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