Arms for the King and His Family: The US Arms Sale to Saudi Arabia

  • On October 20, 2010, the U.S. State Department notified Congress of its intention to make the biggest arms sale in American history – an estimated $60.5 billion purchase by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. The package represents a considerable improvement in the offensive capability of the Saudi armed forces.
  • Saudi Arabia’s armed forces are compartmentalized by royal family faction, and do not share communications. They include the Royal Saudi Air Force (RSAF), Royal Saudi Land Forces (RSLF), Saudi Arabian Royal Guard (SARG), and Saudi Arabian National Guard (SANG). This system is at once a form of coup-proofing and power-balancing.
  • SANG, headed by King Abdullah and his sons, is slated to be particularly blessed with 156 new helicopters, significantly increasing its mobility and attack capabilities. Abdullah has significantly upgraded the SANG, which amounts to the personal militia of his family faction.
  • The U.S. was keen to point out that the arms transfer would increase “interoperability” with U.S. forces. In the 1990-1991 Gulf War, having U.S.-trained Saudi forces, along with military installations built to U.S. specifications, allowed the American armed forces to deploy in a comfortable and familiar battle environment. This new deal would increase these capabilities, as an advanced American military infrastructure is about to be built.
  • Totally offensive in nature, the package, with its attack planes, helicopters, and “bunker-buster” bombs, was clearly designed to deter Iran and to send a strong signal, perhaps previously lacking in the Obama administration, that the U.S. would stand strongly by its allies. U.S. officials have also begun to refer to the “Persian Gulf” as the “Arabian Gulf,” a hot-button issue for the Iranians.

Full Text: “Arms for the King and His Family: The US Arms Sale to Saudi Arabia,” Jerusalem Issue Briefs, November 4, 2010.