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Saudi Arabia Just Bought A Lot Of Tanks

August 21, 2016

US M1A2S Abrams Saudi Arabia 01

On August 9 the Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA) announced the proposed sale of 153 “tank structures” to Saudi Arabia worth an estimated $1.15 billion. Should it be completed it represents the largest transfer of American-made armor to the Middle East since 2014, when the DSCA delivered almost $4 billion of vehicles–including 174 M1A1 Abrams battle tanks–for the beleaguered Iraqi army.

This latest transaction with the Saudis is smaller, with just 133 M1A2S MBTs and 20 M88A2 Hercules armored recovery vehicles covered by the reported amount. The DSCA added a grocery list of parts and munitions to go with the tanks manufactured by General Dynamics Land Systems.

Though the DSCA didn’t publish the date when deliveries are completed the size and suddenness of this deal does have implications. The M1A2S isn’t anything to sniff at either. It carries an impressive suite of optical and targeting subsystems that allows longer ranges for the main gun and better visibility for the commander and gunner.

Other than serving as ultimate proof that the Kingdom’s dream of having Leopard 2A7’s is gone forever, the number of tanks (133) and their specifications–being tailored for the Royal Saudi Land Forces’ needs–suggest these are for the ongoing war in Yemen, which rages on at Saudi Arabia’s doorstep.

The war launched by the Kingdom and its Gulf allies in late 2014 has become a quagmire and there doesn’t seem to be a credible plan to end it. Saudi Arabia’s conduct has been equally problematic, with its indiscriminate airstrikes on civilian targets and infrastructure.

On the ground, however, the enemy Houthis and their own allies have leveled the playing field even if official data on battlefield losses is out of reach. Unofficially though, the Saudi army have suffered shocking reversals against their foes. Based on figures cited by the US Army’s OEWatch in February, the Yemen adventure has killed 2,000 Saudi troops and destroyed 450 armored vehicles.

How many Saudi tanks were knocked out in the tally for armored vehicles? It’s hard to know and even the raw footage of tank kills shared by pro-Houthi sources are too ambiguous.

If enough Saudi M1A2’s were indeed taken out by land mines and anti-tank missiles, these mark a new low for the model in the region, where the Abrams is used by the Pentagon as a diplomatic tool to bolster ties with Arab states. Only Saudi Arabia and Kuwait field the M1A2. Meanwhile Iraq, Morocco, and Egypt deploy the M1A1. In Egypt’s case it can assemble these locally.

Saudi Arabia’s ground forces maintain an impressive selection of combat vehicles thanks to a generous annual budget nearing $60 billion. But there are still lingering suspicions the Kingdom maintains a parade ground military unsuited for real warfare. Should the Kingdom’s army have 133 new M1A2 MBTs by year’s end, its Abrams fleet grows to 600 units.