The U.S. has stopped a foreign military sale of precision-guided munitions to Saudi Arabia out of concern over civilian casualties of Saudi-led air strikes in Yemen. The move coincided with the arrival in Saudi Arabia of the first Boeing F-15SA fighters stemming from a December 2011 arms agreement between the countries.
Halted is Saudi Arabia’s request for air-launched, precision-guided bombs, a proposed sale worth $1.29 billion, according to a notification the Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA) made to Congress in November 2015. Although the State Department approved that request, the White House stepped in to stop the sale, the government-funded Voice of America and other media reported on December 13.
A Saudi-led coalition has conducted thousands of airstrikes against Iranian-backed Houthi rebels since intervening in Yemen’s civil war in March 2015. In October this year, the coalition acknowledged responsibility for an airstrike that wrongly targeted a funeral in Sana’a, killing some 140 people.
“Since the beginning of this conflict in Yemen, weddings, marketplaces, hospitals, schools—and now mourners at a funeral—have been hit, resulting in massive civilian casualties and zero accountability for those responsible,” the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights said following the attack. Since the beginning of the conflict, 4,125 civilians had been killed and 7,207 injured, the UN said.
The November DSCA notification to Congress called for the sale of more than 20,000 Paveway II, Enhanced Paveway II and Paveway III laser-guided bombs, unguided bombs, Joint Direct Attack Munition (JDAM) tail kits and bomb components. “The purchase replenishes the Royal Saudi Air Force’s current weapons supplies, which are becoming depleted due to the high operational tempo in multiple counter-terrorism operations. The purchase of these munitions rebuilds war reserves and provides options for future contingencies,” the notice stated.
The U.S. government is conducting an interagency review to ensure that its “limited support” of the Saudi-led coalition is consistent with foreign policy goals and values, a State Department official said in a statement provided to AIN. The government recently made some “adjustments” in its support of the coalition with the goal of improving information sharing and analysis of threat data, the official added.
“At the same time, we continue to have concerns about the conflict in Yemen and how it has been waged, most especially the air campaign,” the official stated. “This review reflects our continued, strong concerns with the flaws in the Coalition’s targeting practices and overall prosecution of the air campaign in Yemen. We are also exploring how to refocus training for the Saudi Air Force to address these kinds of issues.
In the UK, cross-party pressure from members of Parliament is growing on the UK government to take the same action. The Royal Saudi Air Force (RSAF) has used BAE Systems Tornado and Typhoon combat aircraft for strikes in Yemen. Until now, however, the government has maintained that the Saudis have struck only “legitimate military targets”, aided by a small British military presence in-country “to ensure that processes are correctly followed.”
Last October, the government confirmed that MBDA’s Storm Shadow cruise missile had been fired for the first time by the RSAF. The Anglo-French company’s Dual-Mode Brimstone weapon has also been used, as well as the older PGM500 – which was developed for the UAE and is known there as the Hakim 2. BAE Systems’ ALARM anti-radiation missiles have also been fired. Raytheon’s UK subsidiary has been resupplying the RSAF with the Paveway IV dual-mode guided 500lb bomb, made in Scotland.
Meanwhile, the first F-15SAs from Saudi Arabia’s 2011 order arrived at King Khalid Air Base on December 13, following a ferry flight from the U.S. via the UK, IHS Jane’s reported. Riyadh agreed to purchase 84 new fighters and upgrade 70 F-15S models to the SA configuration, introducing fly-by-wire flight controls, a digital electronic warfare suite, an infrared search and track system and the Raytheon APG-63(v)3 active electronically scanned array radar. Two remanufactured and two new-build fighters were spotted landing in Saudi Arabia. They arrived a year later than the U.S. Air Force originally indicated, reportedly due to development problems. The Air Force has said the full order will be fulfilled by 2019.
Saudi Arabia also now seeks 48 Boeing CH-47F Chinook cargo helicopters and related equipment, training and support in a proposed foreign military sale worth $3.51 billion, according to a DSCA notification to Congress on December 8. The UAE, which initially served in the Saudi coalition in Yemen but scaled back its support in June, is seeking 37 new and remanufactured Boeing AH-64E Apache attack helicopters in a transaction valued at $3.5 billion, according to another notice.
additional reporting by Chris Pocock