US approves large tank sale to Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia intends to buy over 150 M1 Abrams tanks. Image courtesy of Wikipedia Commons
Saudi Arabia intends to buy over 150 M1 Abrams tanks. Image courtesy of Wikipedia Commons

The US State Department has approved the sale of a large amount of military equipment to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

Worth around $1.15bn, the sale is one of the largest single purchases of US defense systems ever made by the country.

The deal encompasses the sale of over 150 M1 Abrams main battle tanks, 20 armoured recovery vehicles and additional heavy machine guns, grenade launchers, night vision equipment as well as a large amount of ammunition.

“This sale will increase the Royal Saudi Land Force’s (RSLF) interoperability with US forces and conveys US commitment to Saudi Arabia’s security and armed forces modernization,” the Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA) said in a statement.

The primary contractor involved in the deal is General Dynamics Land Systems, the manufacturer of the Abrams tank.

The DSCA maintains that the approved sale would not alter the basic military balance in the region, and is consistent with the US’s foreign policy objectives.

“This proposed sale will contribute to the foreign policy and national security of the United States by helping to improve the security of a strategic regional partner which has been and continues to be a leading contributor of political stability and economic progress in the Middle East,” they explain.

Humanitarian concerns

While this is not the first large US defense purchase by Saudi Arabia, it comes at a time of intense human rights scrutiny.

Saudi Arabia’s military has been accused of war crimes in its ongoing war in Yemen, and just this week, a renewed wave of airstrikes caused a number of civilian deaths.

Included in the DSCA statement is the admission that 20 of the tanks are “battle damage replacements”, which, when paired with videos of the fighting in Yemen, would confirm that they would replace vehicles damaged in a number of anti-tank missile attacks over recent months.

As such, it is almost certain that these “replacement” tanks delivered to Saudi Arabia will end up on the frontlines in Yemen.

When questioned about concerns that US weapons sold to Saudi Arabia could end up being used on civilians, state department spokesperson Elizabeth Trudeau avoided the question.

“We regularly talk to our partners and our allies around the world. You know, civilian casualties are obviously of grave concern to us,” she reportedly said according to The Guardian.