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State Dept. approves proposed sale of 3,000 smart bombs to Saudi Arabia

GBU-39 small diameter bombs sit in the munitions storage area at Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar, Nov. 27, 2020. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Jordan Martin)
December 30, 2020

The U.S. State Department approved a proposed U.S. sale of some 3,000 precision-guided GBU-39 Small Diameter Bomb I (SDB I) to Saudi Arabia, sending the measure to Congress, who is likely to oppose the sale.

The Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA), the Pentagon office that oversees weapons sales to foreign partners, announced the State Department’s approval decision in a Tuesday statement. The DSCA said the weapon sale has an estimated value of $290 million and includes repair parts and logistical support to transfer the weapons.

The new weapons transfer to Saudi Arabia is one of several President Donald Trump’s administration has supported in recent years. Trump has pushed forward support to Saudi Arabia, despite past congressional efforts to bar U.S. support for the nation in its ongoing war in Yemen. In April of 2019, Trump vetoed a bill that would have barred U.S. support for Saudi Arabia’s military efforts in Yemen.

A Saudi-led military coalition has been fighting in support of the pro-Saudi Yemen government, which has been in a state of civil war against the rebel Houthi movement since 2014. The U.S. has linked Iran to support for the Houthi rebels.

The DSCA said it obtained approval for the arms sale from the State Department on the same day it notified Congress of the proposed sale.

William Hartung, the Director of the Arms and Security Program at the Center for International Policy, criticized the proposed arms sale to Saudi Arabia in a statement provided to Reuters. Hartung said, “it is particularly concerning that the Trump administration is trying to ram through these controversial deals when it has less than a month left in office” and said if Congress cannot block the arms sale, Joe Biden should do so when he takes office in January.

DSCA said, “This proposed sale will support U.S. foreign policy and national security objectives by helping to improve the security of a friendly country that continues to be an important force for political stability and economic growth in the Middle East,” and will “improve Saudi Arabia’s capability to meet current and future threats by increasing its stocks of long-range, precision air-to-ground munitions.”

The DSCA said the particular bombs would give Saudi Arabia a precision weapon whose small blast diameter is intended to reduce the risk of collateral damage.

The GBU-39 SDB-1 is produced by Boeing and, according to a U.S. Air Force fact sheet, the 250-pound bomb has a standoff range of 46 miles. It can be used to attack stationary and mobile targets, with a GPS-guidance system to direct the bomb to its target. The bomb can be deployed on F-16 Fighting Falcon, F-117, B-1 Lancer, B-2 Spirit, F-22 Raptor and F-35 Lightning II aircraft.