The U.S. Defense Department announced March 4 that it recently awarded Lockheed Martin a nearly $1 billion contract to begin work on a Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) ballistic missile defense package for Saudi Arabia. The contract marks the start of a $15 billion deal for the kingdom to receive 44 THAAD batteries, including 360 missile interceptors.
The contract followed November 2018 letters of offer and acceptance between the United States and Saudi Arabia formalizing terms for the sale of the THAAD launchers, missiles, and related equipment. The $15 billion package is part of a larger $110 billion weapons deal that the United States negotiated with Saudi leaders in 2017.
The November letters were exchanged as the United States was under political pressure to reduce defense cooperation with Saudi Arabia following the October 2018 murder of Jamal Khashoggi, a commentator for The Washington Post, and amid concerns about U.S. support for Saudi military actions in Yemen.
The initial sale was approved by the State Department and Congress in August 2017 and November 2017, respectively, when there was speculation that Riyadh was negotiating to purchase Russian S-400 air defense systems. Russian-Saudi talks on an S-400 transfer remain underway this year, according to Alexander Mikheyev, chief executive officer of Russia’s state arms exporter Rosoboronexport.—SHERVIN TAHERAN