Dec 29, 2020 - World

Pentagon notifies Congress of plans to sell smart bombs to Saudi Arabia

A member of the US Airforce looks on near a Patriot missile battery at the Prince Sultan air base in Al-Kharj, in central Saudi Arabia on February 20

A U.S. Airforce member near a Patriot missile battery at the Prince Sultan air base in Al-Kharj, in central Saudi Arabia in February. Photo: Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/POOL/AFP via Getty Images

The Pentagon's Defense Security Cooperation Agency alerted Congress Tuesday about plans for a $290 million arms sale to Saudi Arabia that would include 3,000 precision guided munitions.

Why it matters: The State Department's approval of the potential deal in the Trump administration's final weeks comes despite President-elect Joe Biden vowing during his election campaign to end weapons sales to the Saudis.

Details: Saudi Arabia has requested to buy GBU-39 SDB I munitions, spare parts, U.S. Government and contractor engineering, weapon support, support equipment and other items and services, the Pentagon said in a statement. Boeing would be the principal contractor.

  • "The proposed sale will improve Saudi Arabia’s capability to meet current and future threats by increasing its stocks of long-range, precision air-to-ground munitions," the statement said.
  • "The size and accuracy of the SDB I allows for an effective munition with less collateral damage.  The potential sale will further strengthen the interoperability between the United States and Saudi Arabia."

Of note: The Trump administration's 2019 sale to Saudi Arabia drew bipartisan ire among lawmakers.

  • The State Department inspector general found last August that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo acted legally when he bypassed Congress to approve the $8 billion in arms sale, but failed to "fully assess risks and implement mitigation measures to reduce civilian casualties" that resulted from the deal.
  • The Biden transition team declined to comment on the Pentagon's latest announcement, saying it "would not be appropriate for us to do so during the transition period." 

Correction: The estimated cost of the sale is $290 million, not $290 billion.

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