The U.S. State Department has approved the possible sale of up to four multi-mission Littoral Combat Ships to Saudi Arabia for $11.25 billion, the Pentagon said in a statement Tuesday. The ships were made by Lockheed Martin Corp. and are being sold to the Saudis in part to bolster the defenses of U.S. allies in the Gulf region ahead of the full implementation of the recently signed Iranian nuclear deal, according to Bloomberg.
The sale of the Multi-Mission Surface Combatant (MMSC) ships were approved under the Foreign Military Sales program and will give Saudi Arabia "protection-in-depth for critical industrial infrastructure and for the sea lines of communication. Saudi Arabia will use the enhanced capability to keep pace with the rapid advances in technology and to remain a viable U.S. coalition partner in the region," according to the Pentagon's Defense Security Cooperation Agency, which oversees foreign military sales.
The sale would also include various equipment: four TRS-4D radars, five identification friend-or-foe systems, five compact low frequency active passive variable depth sonar, eight MK-41 vertical launch systems and 532 tactical RIM-162 Evolved Sea Sparrow missiles, 188 RIM 116C Block II Rolling Airframe missiles, eight RGM-84 Harpoon Block II missiles and 48 50-caliber machine guns.
Before the Saudis and other Gulf nations acquiesced to the U.S.-led deal with Iran, they asked for the U.S. to guarantee to help modernize their military, which U.S. President Barack Obama agreed to do. As part of the easing of economic sanctions on Iran, the nuclear agreement will give Tehran access to billions of dollars in frozen funds, which worries the Sunni Arab nations, some of who are already engaged in proxy battles with Iran in Yemen and Syria.
"This sale demonstrates the enduring U.S. commitment to building robust diplomatic and security partnerships essential to promoting peace and stability in the Gulf region," a U.S. official who was not authorized to speak publicly told Reuters.
However, the U.S. military is prohibited from selling cutting-edge weapons such as F-35 fighter jets to the Gulf nations due to legislation that requires the U.S. to ensure Israel's military remains superior to its Mideast neighbors, notes Bloomberg.
The Pentagon informed Congress of the possible sale on Oct. 19, and lawmakers now have 30 days to disapprove of the sale before it takes effect.
The State Department also approved another possible sale to Saudi Arabia last week for nine UH-60M Black Hawk utility helicopters at a cost of $495 million, according to Defense News.