The U.S. Congress and the State Department have approved the upgrading of Saudi Patriot missiles by the manufacturer Raytheon.
The Patriot air-defense system, bought by Saudi Arabia in wake of the first Gulf War in 1990, will now be upgraded to the latest Configuration-3 standard for US$ 1.7 billion. The deal includes ground-system hardware, a full training package, support equipment upgrades and the ability to support potential coalition operations.
The Patriot was first designed as an anti-aircraft missile system with limited missile defense capabilities, but was later optimized for that role although it can also deal with aircraft, cruise missiles or UAVs (drones). The missile itself is almost 6 meters long, weighing 700 kg, has a speed of Mach 5 and can reach altitudes up to 24,000 meters.
If a target is engaged by the system, two missiles (interceptors) are fired in quick succession. The first interceptor is then guided by radio into the vicinity of the target where its own radar takes over and guides it to hit the warhead of the incoming missile. The second interceptor takes out remaining debris.
The Saudi military is currently in a shopping spree to get advanced weapons for its armed forces. After upgrading the air force with 72 Eurofighter Typhoon combat planes from 2009, the Saudi government last September requested the sale of artillery systems and HUMVEE vehicles from the U.S. The deal is worth US$ 886 million (see our article ‘U.S. selling more weapons to Saudi Arabia‘).
Moreover, Germany in July has agreed to deliver up to 200 of the latest Leopard 2 A7+ to the Saudi Kingdom.
Why all that? A senior Saudi official said it clearly during a speech last June in the UK: the country’s rulers are concerned about Iran. Iran shows an increasingly aggressive stance and rhetoric, supports the Shia minority in Saudi Arabia and its neighbour Bahrain, and has built up a large military just across the Persian Gulf.
Taken into account that the above-mentioned Saudi official said in the same speech that if Iran acquires nuclear weapons, the Kingdom will do the same, it is time to worry about a major arms race around the Gulf.