U.S. State Dept. OKs Major Air Defense Sales To Saudi Arabia, UAE

weapons interceptor
Credit: Leah Garton/Missile Defense Agency

The U.S. State Department on Aug. 2 approved two major air defense sales to nations in the Middle East: a possible $3.05 billion sale of MIM-104E Patriot missiles to Saudi Arabia and a possible $2.245 billion sale of Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) missiles to the United Arab Emirates.

The first sale would include 300 Raytheon MIM-104E Guidance Enhanced Missile-Tactical Ballistic Missiles (GEM-T) and related equipment. The sale would replenish Saudi Arabia’s dwindling stock of the missiles, which are used to defend against “persistent Houthi cross-border unmanned aerial system and ballistic missile attacks on civilian sites and critical infrastructure in Saudi Arabia,” the Defense Security Cooperation Agency says in an announcement. 

The sales require congressional approval. The defensive missiles are not affected by the Biden administration’s sales ban of offensive weapons to Saudi Arabia, but could raise concern on Capitol Hill among lawmakers critical of the kingdom’s involvement in Yemen’s civil war. The announcement comes about two weeks after Biden visited Saudi Arabia, where he discussed more integrated air defense cooperation.

“This cooperation includes U.S. military support and far-reaching foreign military sales cases with emphasis on defensive systems and advanced technology,” a White House statement on the visit says. “The United States affirmed it would accelerate our cooperation with Saudi Arabia and other partners in the region to counter unmanned aerial systems and missiles that threaten the peace and security of the region.”

If approved, the sale to the UAE would include 96 Lockheed Martin THAAD missile rounds, two launch control stations and two tactical operations stations. 

The UAE has also faced increasing missile threats, having become the first nation to operationally use the THAAD system during a January 2021 Houthi missile attack targeting Abu Dhabi. The nation hosts multiple large U.S. military bases that are protected by both UAE and U.S.-operated air defense systems.

“The proposed sale will improve the UAE’s ability to meet current and future ballistic missile threats in the region and reduce dependence on U.S. forces,” the DSCA says. “The UAE will have no difficulty absorbing this equipment into its armed forces, as it currently employs the THAAD system.”

Brian Everstine

Brian Everstine is the Pentagon Editor for Aviation Week, based in Washington, D.C. Before joining Aviation Week in August 2021, he covered the Pentagon for Air Force Magazine. Brian began covering defense aviation in 2011 as a reporter for Military Times.