The Weekly Wire: For Your Situational Awareness 8.16.19

 In Weekly Wire

Contested FMS Sales to Saudi Arabia and UAE Proceed

Luke Penn-Hall, Research Associate

Since May 24, 2019, the State Department has approved several Foreign Military Sales (FMS) to members of the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen which focuses heavily on long-range strike, aircraft procurement, and aircraft sustainment. The most recent is a sale of F-16 sustainment services to Morocco which is valued at $250.4 million. Morocco previously sent its F-16s to Yemen to participate in the Saudi coalition but had to recall them in 2018 due to growing regional tensions. However, most of the sales have been to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, and these sales prompted criticism when they were announced. Saudi Arabia was approved to receive aircraft follow-on support and tactical air surveillance system aircraft support, with a total estimated value of $2.7 billion. The UAE was approved for Advanced Precision Kill Weapon SystemsJavelin Missiles, and RQ-21A Blackjack UAVs, which are estimated to be worth $1 billion.

The criticism of the sales was based partially on human rights concerns, but also on the fact that these sales utilized a rarely used aspect of the Arms Export Control Act which allows the State Department to waive Congressional review of the sales due to a state of emergency in the region. The official description of the emergency that prompted the State Department to waive Congressional review was focused on Iran – specifically, concerns about spreading Iranian influence threatening key allies in the Middle East. While Iran has been very active recently, it is very unusual for Congress to deny a sale through the FMS process which makes the State Department’s decision to circumvent the Congressional review even more puzzling. Additionally, the content of the approved sales would provide additional capability to counter Iran, but they also enhance the ability of Saudi Arabia and the UAE to operate in Yemen. The US Senate tried to block the sale but was unable to secure enough votes to do so. As a result, they are likely to proceed without further interruption. That being said, as the US begins an election cycle, it is likely that Democrats in the Senate will continue to try to work against arms sales towards countries with a history of human rights abuses. There is not enough data to know if this action will take place primarily through the mechanism of Foreign Military Sales, but future sales towards Saudi Arabia, and to a lesser extent its coalition partners in Yemen, could face difficulty and delays moving forward.


On August 12, the Australian government approved the first phase of Project GREYFIN, which will procure a wide variety of equipment for Australia’s special forces. This approval opens a series of procurements worth nearly $340 million (A$500 million) out of the 20-year program that could eventually be worth up to $2.03 billion (A$3 billion). This comes six months after the Australian DoD released a request for information for at least 16 light utility helicopters that would primarily be deployed with its special forces. In addition to these to programs, there are other efforts underway at modernizing Australia’s soldiers systems under projects LAND 125 and LAND 159. LAND 125 Phase 3C is delivering 30,000 EF88 rifles and accessories to the Australian Army, while LAND 125 Phase 4 is delivering a wide variety of camouflage, surveillance systems, targeting equipment, and other field equipment over 2019 to 2032. LAND 159 is procuring a variety of small arms, non-lethal munitions, and unmanned weapon systems, and is expected to deliver between 2023 and 2030. These soldier modernization programs could represent up to $2.6 billion over the next ten years.

South Korea

The US State Department has approved an $800 million Foreign Military Sale of MH-60R helicopters to South Korea. The deal is the latest in a series of South Korean procurements to rapidly reinforce and expand its anti-submarine capabilities in the wake of an enhanced North Korean submarine threat. In the four years since North Korea displayed the ability to overwhelm the South Korean Navy by simultaneously sortieing its entire submarine force, South Korea has placed an increased emphasis on the domain through the purchase of six P-8A Poseidons, an increased focus on submarine production, and an attempted panic-buy of S-3 Vikings as a stopgap.

The 12 MH-60Rs will each be equipped with an APS-153(V) Multi-Mode Radars, Airborne Low Frequency Sonars (ALFS), AN/AAS-44C(V) Multi-Spectral Targeting System, Link 16 MIDS-LVT datalinks, ARC-210 radios, 2 Embedded GPS/INS systems with Selective Availability/Anti-Spoofing Modules (EGI), ARC-210 radios, ARC-220 radios, and APX_123 IFF transponders along with their standard pair of T-700 engines. The deal includes spares for most of these systems except for the ALFS, MIDS-LVT, and EGI-, 8 crew served guns, and 1,000 sonobouys.


Ukraine’s Ukrspetsexport agency and Turkey’s Baykar Defense have agreed to create a joint venture focusing on developing unmanned aerial systems. The two companies under the newly formed joint venture will begin to develop a new generation of UAVs, specifically a high-altitude long endurance (HALE) UAV capable of conducting reconnaissance missions and firing precision weapons. The joint venture is boasting that this new HALE UAV will be able to carry more weapons than current combat UAVs. Ukrspetsexport is a state-owned company under Ukraine’s conglomerate defense firm Ukroboronprom, and is responsible for the import and export of a variety of ammunition and explosives in addition to providing spare parts, maintenance, and repair services. Turkey’s Baykar on the other hand produces unmanned aerial systems. Ukraine purchased six Bayraktar TB2 UAVs from Baykar back in January.

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