Lockheed-Martin Wins Big Despite Growing Anti-Saudi Sentiment

Even as the U.S. Senate readies a vote to halt U.S. military support for the Saudi coalition in Yemen’s civil war, Lockheed-Martin just received word the Saudi government is buying Lockheed-Martin’s $15 billion missile defense system.

A early test of the THAAD missile defense system -- the one just ordered by the Saudi Arabian government -- conducted in June 2009 by the U.S. Missile Defense Agency and the U.S. Army. The image shows a THAAD system launching an interceptor missile from its test site on Kauai, Hawaii. Systems like this can be readily deployed anywhere, including in support of the Saudi-backed Yemeni war forces. Photo: U.S. Missile Defense Agency, CC

According to information provided by the U.S. State Department, U.S. officials and Saudi representatives signed the letters of offer and acceptance documents for the deal on November 26.

The solution covers the purchase of 44 Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) launchers, along with associated equipment to integrate it into Saudi Arabia’s other military systems.

Though it would be hard to peg exactly why the award went through, Donald Trump’s continued support for the innocence of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in the killing of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi likely played into it. According to sources, while Trump doubled-down on his defense of the Crown Prince despite what other countries – and the CIA itself – had confirmed to be true, Lockheed-Martin and the Department of Defense went into high gear to convince the Saudis to proceed not just with this contract but also many others still pending. 

The THAAD missile defense system contract with the Saudis has been in negotiations now for almost two years, since December 2016.

In announcing the $15 billion contract award for Lockheed-Martin, a State Department spokesman said that the solution supports the “long-term security of Saudi Arabia and the Gulf region in the face of the growing ballistic missile threat from the Iranian regime and Iran-backed extremist groups”.

With pressure growing even from the Republican-led Senate for more truthful answers from the administration about the Saudi’s roles not just in Khashoggi’s murder but also in what the Saudi-led Yemeni war coalition is doing in killing innocent citizens there, the days of easy contracts with the Saudi Arabian government may soon be ending.

It could also be that the Lockheed-Martin $15 billion missile defense system for the Saudis may be one of the last large contracts delivered to Riyadh for the foreseeable future.

That's because, as step one of a pair of an unusually-confrontive moves, the Senate had already demanded testimony from the Trump Administration about what really happened in Khashoggi’s death. They especially wanted to speak to CIA Director Gina Haspel but the Trump Administration blocked her from testifying. Haspel had heard the surveillance audio provided by the Turkish government which supposedly revealed much which has not yet been made public about the killing. She also is the only one who can answer for reports that the CIA had confirmed the Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman had been responsible for the murder. Yet she was blocked from testifying before the Senate by the White House.

Instead, the White House sent Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis. Several Republicans have now said they may withhold votes on other matters until the CIA Director testifies on the matter. According to Democratic Senator Dick Durbin, Pompeo and Mattis were the source of the information that the White House had ordered the CIA director to stay out of the briefing.

In response to the briefing, Bob Corker, the Republican chair of the Senate foreign relations committee, was strongly critical. He said, "I found their briefing today to be lacking. I found that in substance we're not doing those things that we should be doing to appropriately balance our relationship with Saudi Arabia between our American interests and our American values."

The Trump administration is also up against yet another major pushback from the post-election Republican-led Senate. On November 28, the Senate advanced by a vote of 63-37 a proposed bipartisan resolution to end all U.S. military support for the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen’s civil war. That coalition has killed over 50,000 people according to the most up-to-date estimates. Save the Children, a non-profit children's advocacy group, estimates that up to 85,000 children there have died from starvation, as a direct result of the Saudi-led coalition campaign to shut down the economy where Houthi rebels control the ground.

The resolution, which leverages the War Powers clause, is likely to head to the floor of the Senate for a full vote during the first week of December. If passed, it will become the first serious challenge ever to Trump's rubber-stamp support from the Republican Senate. 

It will also have a serious impact on most future U.S. arms sales to Saudi Arabia. It will not, however, have any effect on the current Lockheed-Martin contract award. That deal was pre-cleared in the Congress in 2017.