Why Saudi Arabia Wants the Littoral Combat Ship (But Is It a Mistake?)

Sebastien Roblin

Key point: Saudi Arabia is taking a gamble.

On July 29, members of the U.S. Senate voted forty-five to forty to block new sales of laser-guided bombs and aircraft maintenance services to Saudi Arabia—falling short of the two-thirds majority necessary to override a veto by the Trump administration blocking the ban from taking effect. 

Despite deteriorating public support for Riyadh due to its implication in an exceptional number of civilian deaths in Yemen and the murder of one of its own citizens in the Turkish embassy, the flow of U.S. arms is set to continue.

Earlier in May, the Trump administration argued the new sales could be authorized on an emergency basis, bypassing congressional review, due to escalating tensions with Iran in the Persian Gulf.

However, one of the arms sales most pertinent to Saudi Arabia’s ability to police the increasingly tense waterways is already well underway, having been years in the making.

Since 2008, the Royal Saudi Arabian Navy has planned to invest $20 billion in its SNEP II naval expansion project. It currently operates seven frigates, four thousand-ton Badr-class corvettes and nine 500-ton patrol boats. All but three of its frigates date back to the 1980s.

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