Washington and Moscow vie in race for lucrative Saudi arms market

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Long-time US ally Saudi Arabia is pushing to diversify its source of arms suppliers and the Russians are more than happy to help, according to a report published by CNBC.

The report said that up to now, American defense companies have been the top beneficiaries of foreign arms sales to Saudi Arabia and stand to reap billions of dollars more with President Donald Trump's upcoming trip to the kingdom.


Yet Moscow is intensifying efforts to capture business from the Saudis, even as it continues to sell to long-time customers such as India and China.

"The global arms market has changed where Saudi Arabia has explored other arms deals with U.S. competitors in Russia, China as well as Europe," said Melissa Dalton, senior fellow and deputy director of the International Security Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

READ ALSO: Saudi arms deals proven to contribute to the US economy

It added that last week, the Russian news agency TASS reported that Russia's deputy defense minister had a meeting with a top Saudi military official in Moscow. The Russian defense ministry played up the meeting afterward on the government's website with the headline: "Saudi Arabia wants to buy modern Russian armament."

The Saudis plan to increase military spending by nearly 7 percent this year and the spending, almost 10 percent of the kingdom's gross domestic product, was disclosed in its 2017 budget released in December.

US foreign military sales to the Saudis accounted for just over half of all arms sales to the Near East/South Asia region from 2012 to 2015, representing a whopping $48.5 billion and exceeding the amount sold to Israel during the same period, according to Pentagon figures.

Internationally, the Saudis were the second-largest foreign buyers of U.S. weapons in 2015 after South Korea.

ALSO: Saudi Arabia and France ink $12bln deal

The report said that the Saudis previously expressed interest in ballistic missiles from Russia, particularly the Iskander missile system. At the same time, it's also possible Russians could one day help the Saudis develop a homegrown ballistic missile capability.

However, the report added that the Saudis have no need for Russian air defense systems as they have some of most advanced US.-made equipment, including at least two kinds of Patriot missile defense systems. In fact, the kingdom used the missile interceptors in March to shoot down rockets fired by Iran-backed Houthi from Yemen.

The Saudis are looking to buy the Lockheed Martin-made THAAD (Terminal High Altitude Area Defense) missile defense system, according to Reuters. The proposed arms deal also is said to include about $1 billion worth of munitions from Raytheon, including armor-piercing warheads and laser-guided bombs. Also, US-built warships are reportedly being sought by the Saudis.

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