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U.S. Arms Sales to Saudi Arabia


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The Saudi military puts on a good show, but the Saudi Kingdom knows that ultimately, its security umbrella is American.

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The United States has long been Saudi Arabia’s leading arms supplier. From 1950 through 2006, Saudi Arabia bought or was granted from the United States weapons, military equipment and services worth $79.8 billion. Almost a fifth of all American arms sales during that period went to Saudi Arabia—or 19% of all U.S. arms sales during the period. The proportion underscores the importance of Saudi Arabia to the American defense industry.

Saudi Arabia’s Military Aid Compared With Israel’s

In comparison, Israel has received $53.6 billion in U.S. military grants between 1949 and 2007. The Bush administration agreed to a colossal increase in annual military aid to Israel, however. militaries. Annual military grants to Israel represent over 20% of the Israeli defense budget. U.S. military aid will increase from $2.4 billion in 2008 to $3.1 billion a year through 2018. About 75% of the aid is spent on American weaponry and services. (Israel itself in 2006 was the 9th biggest arms exporter in the world.)

The Bush administration timed the announcement of its $30 billion, 10-year military aid agreement with Israel to coincide with a separate deal to sell $16.7 billion in weaponry to Saudi Arabia. additional sophisticated weaponry to Saudi Arabia.

The largest single recent U.S. foreign military sale to Saudi Arabia was a $9 billion contract for 72 F-15S fighter aircraft. The contract was signed in May 1993, and delivery of the F-15S aircraft was completed in 1999.

Saudi Arabia’s Perceived Threats

The overthrow of Saddam Hussein’s regime in Iraq removed the primary conventional military threat to Saudi Arabia’s security. The Saudi leadership isn’t worried about Israel, a country it does not explicitly recognize but implicitly accepts as part of the American sphere of influence in the region. Like Israel and the United States, the Saudi leadership is more concerned with Iran’s influence across the Persian Gulf.

Military experts claim that Saudi Arabia enjoys some qualitative conventional military advantages over Iran, which is larger and more populous. While these advantages are expected to grow, with key Saudi deficiencies in areas such as naval technology diminishing, it’s also notable that Saudi Arabia has never fought in a modern war. Its ability to repulse an Iraqi attack in 1990, for example, was virtually nil, precipitating the first Bush administration’s deployment of Operation Desert Shield to protect the kingdom.

As of 2004, Saudi Arabia spent $20.1 billion on defense. Its military forces in 2006 consisted of 191,000 regular troops.

Long-Term Plans

Saudi Arabia plans to spend $50-60 billion upgrading existing weapons systems, improving command and control, and expanding the size, training, and capabilities of the Saudi armed forces. Nevertheless, Saudi Arabia still depends on the United States to guarantee its security. Saudi power has been exercised almost exclusively on domestic soil, countering terrorism, suppressing dissidents and, as in most authoritarian Arab regimes, maintaining an iron grip on Saudi society.

The United States, through what the Bush administration called the Gulf Security Dialogue, is seeking to improve the deterrent and defensive capabilities of Saudi and other Gulf Cooperation Council militaries regarding Iran.

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