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Biden approves $650 million in missiles to Saudi Arabia

AIM-120 advanced medium-range air-to-air missiles. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Peter Reft/Released)
November 05, 2021

This week, President Joe Biden’s administration approved its first sale of offensive weapons to Saudi Arabia, worth $650 million.

In a Thursday press release, the Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA) announced the U.S. State Department had approved the arms sale and the DSCA notified Congress. The sale includes 280 AIM-120C-7/C-8 Advanced Medium Range Air-to-Air Missiles (AMRAAM) and 596 LAU-128 Missile Rail Launchers (MRL) to go with Saudi Arabia’s fleets of Eurofighter Typhoon, F-15C/D, F-15S, and F-I5SA fighter jets.

The arms transfer is the U.S.’s first sale of offensive weapons to Saudi Arabia. In September, the administration announced a $500 million contract to provide maintenance support services (MSS) for the Royal Saudi Land Forces Aviation Command’s (RSLFAC) fleet of AH-64D/E, UH-60L, UH-60M, Schweizer 333, Bell 406CS helicopters, and its forthcoming fleet of CH-47F Chinook helicopters.

U.S. arms sales to Saudi Arabia came under scrutiny under President Donald Trump. While lawmakers passed bipartisan measures to halt the arms sales to Saudi Arabia, Trump had been able to veto those measures without a strong enough majority of lawmakers to override his veto and enforce the arms sales bans.

This new $650 million arms sale comes after Biden halted a sale of about 3,000 precision-guided GBU-39 Small Diameter Bomb I’s (SDB I) to Saudi Arabia — approved by Trump — and vowed to suspend all U.S. support for offensive operations in an ongoing Saudi-led military intervention in Yemen against the Houthi rebel movement, “including relevant arms sales.”

A State Department spokesperson told Axios that this new arms sale “is fully consistent with the administration’s pledge to lead with diplomacy to end the conflict in Yemen while ensuring Saudi Arabia has means to defend itself from Iranian-backed Houthi air attacks.”

CNN reported the State Department also said the arms sales will provide protection to U.S. forces in the region.

“We’ve seen an increase in cross-border attacks against Saudi Arabia over the past year,” the State Department said. “Saudi AIM-120C missiles, deployed from Saudi aircraft, have been instrumental in intercepting the persistent UAS attacks that have put U.S. forces at risk and threatened the more than 70,000 US citizens in the Kingdom. The AIM-120C is an Advanced Medium-Range Air-to-Air Missile which is not used to engage ground targets.”

The DSCA also said, “The proposed sale of this equipment and support will not alter the basic military balance in the region.”

CNN reported Congress has 30 days to review the arms sale and it could face opposition from congress.