The US State Department gave its approval on Wednesday for a possible foreign military sale to Saudi Arabia of Patriot Advanced Capability-3 (PAC-3) missiles and equipment, worth $5.4 billion.
The Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA) notified Congress of the possible sale and is awaiting approval to execute.
The Saudi government requested 600 PAC-3 cost-reduction initiative missiles with containers, according to DSCA, along with eight test missiles, telemetry kits, guidance-enhanced missiles, fire solution computers, launcher modification kits and other related equipment.
Word of the possible sale comes just days after Defense Secretary Ash Carter was in the kingdom meeting with his counterpart there.
'The timing of the PAC-3 intent to sell is notable because of Secretary of Defense Ash Carter's visit to Saudi Arabia a few days ago. It's a sweetener," said Theodore Karasik, a geo-political and defense analyst based in the United Arab Emirates. "The PAC-3 is meant to augment Saudi missile defense against not only the Houthis [militias in Yemen] but the Iranian missile threat in the near to medium term."
According to the DSCA's statement, the proposed sale will modernize and replenish Saudi Arabia's current Patriot missile stockpile, which is becoming obsolete and difficult to sustain due to age and limited availability of repair parts.
"The purchase of the PAC-3 missiles will support current and future defense missions and promote stability within the region," the DSCA said. "Saudi Arabia, which already has Patriot missiles in its inventory, will have no difficulty absorbing these additional missiles into its armed forces."
Despite some reports that the older Patriot systems may have failed in action on the Saudi-Yemeni border, Karasik said, newer PAC-3 systems may make up for the deficit as the Houthi SCUD threat is likely to fester for years, according to some Gulf Cooperation Council officials.
"It will take some time to bring this PAC-3 package online because Congress still has to approve the sale and the systems need to be operationalized in the kingdom itself," Karasik added.
The principal contractors will be Dallas-based Lockheed Martin Missiles and Fire Control and Tewksbury, Massachusetts-based Raytheon.
The DSCA added that it is unknown if an offset agreement will be made, as Saudi Arabia requires them for such a purchase.
"It will be determined during negotiations between Saudi Arabia and the contractor," the DSCA stated.
The delivery will take up to five years, the DSCA added, for equipment deprocessing, fielding, system checkout, training and technical logistics support. If approved, the deal will require 30 US government and 40 contractor representatives to travel to Saudi Arabia.
"Lockheed Martin is supporting the US government and the kingdom of Saudi Arabia as they discuss the potential sale of additional PAC-3 missiles as part of the upgrade of the Royal Saudi Air Defense Force," Lockheed said in a statement issued Wednesday. "We look forward to providing this critical capability to our allies, consistent with US government policy."