The U.S. State Department on Friday cleared Saudi Arabia to buy 360 THAAD interceptors that would be used to defend against missiles fired at the kingdom by Iran.
If the $15 billion sale goes through, it would be the largest export of the sophisticated missile defense system, which is built by Lockheed Martin. The approval comes amid reports that the Trump administration is preparing to decertify the Iran nuclear deal brokered by the Obama administration and other nations in 2015.
“This sale furthers U.S. national security and foreign policy interests, and supports the long-term security of Saudi Arabia and the Gulf region in the face of Iranian and other regional threats,” the Defense Security Cooperation Agency, the arm of the Pentagon that oversees foreign arms sales, said in a statement Friday. “This potential sale will substantially increase Saudi Arabia’s capability to defend itself against the growing ballistic missile threat in the region.”
The timing of the THAAD deal approval is reminiscent of the Obama administration’s approval of 600 Patriot missile interceptors for Saudi Arabia just two weeks after the signing of the Iran deal.
THAAD interceptors — which can shoot down missiles at greater distances than Patriot — are built to collide with missiles outside of the Earth’s atmosphere during their final phase of flight. The United Arab Emirates is the only other nation to buy its own THAAD interceptors, although other nations, including Qatar, have expressed interest.
President Trump announced the Saudi THAAD sale during a visit to the kingdom in May, however Congress was formally notified of the sale on Friday. In all, the State Department approved the sale of 44 THAAD launchers, 360 interceptors, 16 command-and-control stations, seven radars and 43 trucks to move move them around.
THAAD interceptors — formally called the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system — has recently gained notoriety after the U.S. deployed it to South Korea amid threats from North Korea. The U.S. has also deployed THAAD interceptors to Guam.