US approves $1.3bn arms sale to Saudi including howitzers

The artillery system is expected to improve the Kingdom’s military capability in the border region with Yemen

The Americans will sell 180 M109 self-propelled Howitzer systems to Saudi Arabia. Bulent Kilic/AFP
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The US government announced on Thursday its approval of a $1.3 billion arms sale to Saudi Arabia providing a full howitzer artillery system, which according to experts would be deployed in the border region with Yemen.

The state department issued its authorisation of the howitzer structure sales to Saudi Arabia, and notified Congress late on Thursday. Congress will now have 30 days to review it, but its approval is not required for the sale to go through.

According to the US Defense Security Cooperation Agency, the sale was requested by Riyadh and includes: 180 units of the 155mm M109A5/A6 medium self-propelled howitzer structures for conversion; 177 155mm M109A6 Paladin medium self-propelled howitzer systems; three fire support combined arms tactical trainers static training devices; 180 M2 HB 50 cal machine guns; and eight advanced field artillery tactical data systems. It also covers support, maintenance, engineering and testing of the system.

Nicholas Heras, a defence fellow at the Center for New American Security, told The National that “these types of artillery pieces are most useful for Saudi Arabia in Yemen.”

The howitzer system would be used, explained Mr Heras, to “both apply pressure on the Houthis in the border region in northern Yemen, and to support local Yemeni partners in future operations, such as along the Red Sea coast and around Sana’a.”

Tension between Saudi Arabia and the Yemeni Houthis has been on the rise as the war enters year four.

Just in the last ten days, the Houthis have fired at least eight ballistic missiles targeting the Kingdom, directed mostly at the border area but also killing one person in Riyadh on March 25.

The state department said the howitzer system sale “will contribute to the foreign policy and national security of the United States by helping to improve the security of an important partner which has been and continues to be a leading contributor of political stability and economic progress in the Middle East.”

It also “conveys US commitment to Saudi Arabia’s security and armed forces modernisation” the statement added. It also emphasised its use to “improve Saudi Arabia’s capability to meet current and future threats and provide greater security for its border regions and critical infrastructure.”

This is the second major US arms sale to Saudi Arabia in the last two weeks. On March 24, the Trump administration authorised a $670 million sale of 6,600 missiles.

The sale comes as the Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman continues his visit to the United States which has taken him so far to Washington, Boston, New York, Seattle, Los Angeles, San Francisco and is expected to conclude in Houston.