November 16, 2015 / 9:09 PM / 2 years ago

U.S. approves $1.29 bln sale of smart bombs to Saudi Arabia

(Reuters) - The U.S. State Department has approved the sale of $1.29 billion in smart bombs and other weapons to Saudi Arabia to help replenish supplies used in its battle against insurgents in Yemen and air strikes against Islamic State in Syria, the Pentagon said on Monday.

The Pentagon's Defence Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA), which facilitates foreign arms sales, notified lawmakers on Friday that the sales had been approved, it said in a statement.

The lawmakers now have 30 days to block the sale, although such action is rare since deals are carefully vetted before any formal notification.

The sales reflect President Barack Obama's pledge to bolster U.S. military support for Saudi Arabia and other Sunni Muslim allies in the Gulf Cooperation Council after his administration brokered a nuclear deal with their Shi'ite Muslim rival Iran.

The agency said the sale would help the Royal Saudi Air Force's (RSAF) replenish weapons supplies that are becoming depleted due to high demand for multiple operations, while providing reserves for future missions.

"This acquisition will help sustain strong military-to-military relations between the United States and Saudi Arabia, improve (the ability of Saudi forces to work) with the United States, and enable Saudi Arabia to meet regional threats and safeguard the world's largest oil reserves," it said.

Providing the munitions to Saudi forces would also help deter its enemies, and "directly conveys U.S. commitment to the RSAF's current and future ability to sustain combat operations," it said.

The proposed sale includes 22,000 smart and general-purpose bombs, including 1,000 GBU-10 Paveway II Laser Guided Bombs, and over 5,000 Joint Direct Attack Munitions kits to turn older bombs into precision-guided weapons using GPS signals.

The weapons are made by Boeing Co (BA.N) and Raytheon Co (RTN.N), but the agency told lawmakers the prime contractors would be selected in a competition.

No further details were immediately available.

Saudi Arabia, one of the largest buyers of U.S. weapons, was approved in September for a potential second sale of 600 Patriot-PAC-3 air defence missiles made by Lockheed Martin Corp (LMT.N), a deal valued at $5.4 billion.

Last month, the U.S. government also approved the sale to Saudi Arabia of up to four Littoral Combat Ships made by Lockheed for $11.25 billion.

In addition to attacking Islamic State militants in Syria, Saudi Arabia is leading the fight against Iranian-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen.

The Saudi embassy in Washington did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Reporting by Andrea Shalal. Additional reporting by Idrees Ali.; Editing by Ted Kerr and Jonathan Oatis

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