The Eastern Fleet of Saudi Arabia’s Royal Navy plans to replace its older American-built warships with new state-of-the-art designs from Lockheed Martin, in a purchase valued at $11.25 billion.
The Pentagon’s Defense Security Cooperation Agency approved the deal and submitted it to Congress on Monday for review. Lawmakers now have 30 days to decide if they want to block the deal.
Eleven billion dollars will buy the Saudis four multi-role Littoral Combat Ships, along with the necessary training, munitions, and support hardware. These ships are capable of operating in shallow water and are extremely agile, as testified by a photo Bloomberg News ran of an LCS spinning around in tight “donuts” on the ocean:
However, Bloomberg notes there have been some criticisms of the ship’s performance, particularly the underwater drone system intended to protect it from mines.
The sale is considered strategically important because “the Saudis and other Sunni Arab nations were unnerved that, in exchange for curbing its nuclear program, their Shiite rival Iran will win relief from crippling economic sanctions and access to billions of dollars in frozen funds,” as Bloomberg explains. “Russia’s military intervention in Syria alongside Iran to back President Bashar al-Assad has further raised sectarian tensions in the region.”
That is not exactly a ringing vote of confidence in President Obama’s promises that his nuclear deal will represent a new era of peaceful cooperation with his responsible nation-building partners in Tehran.
As to why Congress might wish to oppose the Saudi sale, Bloomberg cites legislation that requires the United States to maintain Israel’s “qualitative military superiority over its Mideast neighbors, blocking the sale of cutting-edge weapons such as the F-35 fighter jet.”
Reuters reports that the Saudis have been involved in “advanced discussions” for the purchase of at least two ships since September, and they might not buy all four of the ships approved by the Pentagon at once. The Saudis are also interested in buying ten MH-60R helicopters from Lockheed (and Sikorsky, which Lockheed is in the process of taking over) at a cost of $1.9 billion.
If Congress does not block the deal, Reuters notes it would mark “the first major export of a newly built U.S.-manufactured surface naval vessel in years.” The report suggests that one major advantage to the U.S. from upgrading the Saudi navy would be easier coordination with American naval forces.