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

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
A Terminal High Altitude Area Defense battery in action (AFP file photo)

The government of US President Donald Trump has approved a $15 billion sale of Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) missile systems to Saudi Arabia, a move that the State Department says is aimed at addressing the kingdom's regional concerns.

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

The US had already supplied the advanced missile system to Qatar and the United Arab Emirates, both Saudi Arabia's neighbors.

The system has also been deployed to South Korea to allegedly address US regional allies' concerns about a possible strike by North Korea, amid ongoing tensions over Pyongyang's ballistic missile tests and nuclear weapons program.

It is now up to the US Congress to approve the deal within 30 days. The State Department said it would advise lawmakers that, in Saudi hands, the system would "stabilize" the situation in the region and help defend US forces and their allies there.

"The proposed sale of this equipment and support will not alter the basic military balance in the region," it said, probably referring to Israel's concerns about the Trump administration's extensive arms deals with the Riyadh regime.

During his trip to Riyadh in May, Trump proudly agreed to provide the Saudi military with $110 billion in arms effective immediately, plus at least another $350 billion over the next 10 years.

The agreement did not go down well with Israeli leaders, who voiced concern about Tel Aviv's ability to retain its "qualitative military edge" in the Middle East.

Israel Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz said the US had not given any "explanations" to Israel before inking the arms deal. 

Besides THAAD, the package also included Patriot missiles, tanks, artillery, armored personnel carriers, warships, helicopters, patrol boats and their associated weapons systems.

In a separate statement on Friday, the Pentagon’s Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA) said the deal “will support the foreign policy and national security objectives of the United States by improving the security of a friendly country.”

"THAAD's exo-atmospheric, hit-to-kill capability will add an upper-tier to Saudi Arabia's layered missile defense architecture," unnamed officials told the AFP.

According to DSCA, Saudis had put in orders for 44 THAAD launchers, 360 Interceptor missiles, 16 Fire Control and Communications Mobile Tactical Station Groups and seven AN/TPY-2 cutting-edge THAAD radars.

Lockheed Martin and Raytheon are the two main US contractors who will profit from the sale.

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