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Saudi Arabia Boosts Its National Guard With Anti-Tank Missiles

December 21, 2013

Iraqi Freedom

Despite the rift between Riyadh and Washington, D.C. Over the US’ inaction over Syria, the leading Gulf state remains an important customer for US-made weapons.

This month, the Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA), which oversees arms deals with US allies, announced selling TOW missiles to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

According to two separate press releases published on December 5, Saudi Arabia is paying $1.07 billion for:

10,650 BGM-71 2A

4,895 BGM-71 2B

98 Fly-to-Buy TOW 2A

56 Fly-to-Buy TOW 2B

This totals 15,699 missiles including parts and components. The recipients include the Saudi land forces with the bulk of the missiles going to the National Guard

The deal will be put under consideration by the US Congress.

The TOW system, spelled out as Tube-Launched Optically-Tracked Wire-Guided, was introduced in 1970. It featured a large missile fired from a recoilless rifle’s launch tube that can be mounted on either a tripod or different vehicles. First deployed in Vietnam, the TOW would prove itself for the next 40 years and become an export success among US allies.

The TOW became the center of controversy during the Iran-Contra scandal and saw combat in Iraq from 2003 onward.

The Concerned

The DSCA’s announcement was met with some alarm by the US media. Many have written how this missile purchase is connected to Saudi Arabia’s less-than-subtle backing of hardline Syrian militias fighting against Bashar Al-Assad’s regime in Damascus. Yet little evidence supports this assumption.

Saudi Arabia’s efforts in Syria are being led by Prince bin Sultan, the current head of its intelligence apparatus and a key patron of the Afghan mujahideen in the 1980s.

More importantly, the TOW purchase comes at a time when Saudi Arabia is rearming its military, which has two factions: the National Guard and the regular armed forces.

The National Guard is a 100,000-strong force controlled by the royal family and equipped with small arms and some 1,000 LAV-25 amphibious APCs. It’s also undergoing a $4 billion rearmament with the help of the DSCA. The DSCA’s local partner in this project is the government-owned Vinnell Arabia, which helps train the National Guard.

This latest purchase comes at a time when Saudi Arabia is facing two great challenges—the threat of internal dissent as an aftershock of the Arab Spring and an imminent war with Iran over regional hegemony.

Saudi Arabia is also behind the biggest arms deal of the last 20 years worth $60 billion for 84 upgraded F-15s, 72 UH-60 Blackhawks, 70 AH-64D Apache gunships, and 36 AH-6i scout helicopters plus assorted vehicles.


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