Despite Pledge, Biden Leaves Tap Open, Approving Billions in Arms Deals to Saudi Arabia
A new MintPress News study based on Dept. of Defense documents can reveal that U.S. weapons manufacturers have sold well in excess of $28.3 billion worth of arms to Saudi Arabia since the Yemen War began, including 20 separate deals inked during Biden’s presidency.
(By: Alan Macleod, Mintpress News) “The war in Yemen must end,” declared President Joe Biden in his first major foreign policy speech; “and to underscore our commitment, we are ending all American support for offensive [Saudi] operations in the war in Yemen, including relevant arms sales.”
Yet studying sales records from the Department of Defense (DoD), MintPress can reveal that less than one year into his presidency, the Biden administration has already approved 20 separate weapons contracts, worth just shy of $1.2 billion, to Saudi Arabia alone. This includes a $100 million shipment of Black Hawk helicopters, support for Apache gunships, and a $78 million deal to buy 36 cruise missiles. A new and controversial $650 million deal announced earlier this month has yet to be finalized but will likely soon follow, boosting sales up to levels equal with the earlier years of the Trump presidency.
The Saudi-led Coalition is once again pummelling Yemen’s capital, Sana’a. Images appear to show U.S.-made aircraft attacking ground targets. This is hardly surprising: American arms sales to Saudi Arabia have long been a point of contention. But this MintPress investigation will reveal the extent to which private American companies are profiting off the infliction of suffering on the Yemeni people.
Sorting through thousands of approved contracts, the Department of Defense has approved in excess of $28.4 billion worth of sales from American companies to the armed forces of Saudi Arabia since they began their military intervention in the Yemeni Civil War in March 2015. This includes billions of dollars worth of arms, supplies, logistical support and training services.
While this is a gargantuan number (already larger than Yemen’s gross domestic product), it is certainly a serious underestimate of just how much the military industrial complex is benefiting from what the United Nations has called the “world’s worst humanitarian crisis.” In addition to the $28 billion figure, Saudi Arabia is also a named customer (often along with other nations) in weapons deals worth more than $34 billion over the same period. However, the amounts the Saudis actually paid in these were not disclosed, though in some of these orders Saudi Arabia was clearly the primary buyer. For example, a $3.4 billion DoD-approved radar deal with Raytheon lists only two buyers: Saudi Arabia and the tiny nation of Kuwait (population 4.2 million).
Added together, this means that the DoD has greenlighted the sale of somewhere between $28 billion and $63 billion worth of arms from American companies to Saudi Arabia since the latter began its attack on the largely civilian population of Yemen.
Of course, the U.S. was supplying the Saudis well before the war started and also continues to sell billions of dollars worth of weapons to other partners in the Saudi war on Yemen, such as Bahrain, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates. Therefore, this number only begins to tell the story of corporate American war profiteering.
While selling weapons of war to such a repressive government was already ethically questionable, by March 2015 there was no way one could credibly argue that arms sales to Saudi Arabia would be used in a purely defensive manner. Nevertheless, they continued to grow, fueling the violence. From March to December 2015, sales to Saudi Arabia totalled $1.56 billion. But under Trump, that number ballooned to $5.47 billion in 2019 and $14.36 billion in 2020. Facing increased opposition even inside Washington, Trump even used his presidential veto to unblock an $8.1 billion deal.
Although the Biden administration has not overseen the bonanza fire sale its predecessor oversaw, the flow of arms has not stopped.
“President Biden said we were going to see an end to U.S. complicity in the Saudi war and blockade on Yemen. Unfortunately, this new $650 million weapons sale perpetuates both war and the blockade that’s pushing millions of Yemenis into famine,” said Hassan El-Tayyab — Legislative Director for Middle East Policy at the Friends Committee on National Legislation, a pro-peace lobbying group associated with the Quaker movement — adding:
These air-to-air munitions, combined with other forms of military aid, send a message of impunity to the Saudis as they continue their destructive behavior in Yemen with no consequences from key allies like the United States… Now is not the time to be greenlighting new arms sales to Saudi Arabia. Now is the time to use existing U.S. leverage to end the Saudi blockade before more Yemenis are plunged into famine.
Calling the roll
The biggest profiteer from Yemen’s destruction has been aviation giant Boeing, which brought in $13.9 billion in sales over the period. Next comes Lockheed Martin, which has signed 62 separate contracts with the Kingdom since March 2015, worth in excess of $7.4 billion. Third on the list is missile expert Raytheon, which has cashed in on the violence to the tune of $3.3 billion.
Boeing’s spot at the top of the pile comes in large part thanks to a massive, $9.8 billion contract signed last year to maintain and modernize Saudi Arabia’s fleet of 269 McDonnell Douglas F-15 Eagle fighter jets, including changing out hardware components, updating software and improving weapons systems (McDonnell Douglas is a subsidiary of Boeing). 2020 was a great year for the company, as it also secured a $1.97 billion fee to provide 650 SLAM ER cruise missiles to the Saudi government.
Lockheed Martin has scored big with the Saudi Navy, making billions of dollars, including a nearly $2 billion contract to build four warships. In addition, it secured enormous sales of Patriot missiles and laser and infrared technology. Black Hawk helicopters made by its subsidiary Sikorsky (treated by the DoD as a separate entity) were also in high demand.
Slices of the American pie
The top 10 war profiteers supplying the Saudis with arms are as follows (with the total value of contracts in parentheses):
- Boeing ($13,879,225,733)
- Lockheed Martin ($7,423,287,331)
- Raytheon ($3,306,032,077)
- Sikorsky ($650,701,270)
- PKL Services ($557,629,505)
- S&K Aerospace ($566,435,631)
- DynCorp International ($232,878,635)
- AITC-Five Domains JV ($183,584,909)
- L-3 Communications Corp. ($178,569,672)
- Kratos Technology and Training Solutions ($115,408,312)
For full information, including links to all grants, see the attached viewable spreadsheet.
Reading the approved sales, what becomes clear is the depth of U.S. involvement in virtually every aspect of the Saudi military. Of course, there are direct arms shipments. But there are also contracts for helmets and a wide range of equipment, intelligence services, maintenance arrangements, and even for English lessons for Saudi pilots to help them better use their aircrafts’ features.
While the offensive is widely known as the Saudi-led attack on Yemen, in reality, U.S.-made aircraft — armed with American missiles and bullets, maintained by American crews and flown by pilots trained by American operatives — hit targets selected by U.S. intelligence. All of this is done under political and diplomatic protection by Washington, which blocks attempts by regional organizations to mitigate the destruction and shields Saudi Arabia from international consequences. This, in other words, is an American attack on Yemen.
“It is inconceivable that the Saudi-led Coalition could be carrying out its attacks without the support of these companies,” Kirsten Bayes of the Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) told MintPress via email; “Western-made weapons have been central to a bombardment that has destroyed schools, hospitals and homes and created the worst humanitarian crisis in the world. It is long past time for arms shipments to the Saudi-led Coalition to be brought to an end.”
In total, 86 U.S. companies have profited from sales to Saudi Arabia since its intervention in Yemen, including household names like General Electric, Booz Allen Hamilton and Honeywell. The full list is also available in the accompanying spreadsheet.
Death for sale – $50,000 apiece!
Counting the value of the contracts is relatively straightforward. Counting the dead is not. One recent estimate, however, put the cumulative death toll from the conflict at over 560,000. If that is the case, American companies have made about $50,000 in sales per death. The Saudis have deliberately targeted Yemeni infrastructure, including hospitals, farms and sewage plants. Oxfam calculated that attacks on health and water facilities have taken place on average every 10 days since the conflict began.
It is beyond doubt that American arms are in part to blame for the carnage. In the first two years of fighting alone, pieces of Raytheon weapons were found at 12 different sites where civilians had been targeted. Meanwhile, fragments of Boeing Joint Direct Attack Munition bombs were identified in the wreckage of a marketplace that had been targeted, killing 107 civilians, including 25 children. Not to be left out, 500-pound MK-82 bombs built and supplied by Lockheed Martin were used in an infamous 2018 attack on a school bus, killing 40 children, and a 2016 strike on a funeral hall that left 240 dead. The company’s unexploded cluster munitions also litter the country, likely causing casualties for years or decades to come. The U.S. is the only major Western nation not to have signed the 2008 convention banning the production and use of cluster bombs.
For almost seven years, Saudi forces have maintained a naval and aerial blockade of Yemen, cutting it off from the outside world. “The closure of Sana’a Airport has been devastating for Yemen, driving up the prices of life-saving medicines and humanitarian aid, and preventing mercy flights for tens of thousands of critically ill Yemenis who need emergency treatment abroad,” El-Tayyeb told MintPress.
Keeping the D.C. spigot stuck on open
Weapons manufacturers are well aware that their profits live and die on the decisions made by legislators. Lockheed Martin’s latest annual report makes that explicit. In a section entitled “other risks to our operations,” the Bethesda, Maryland-based outfit noted:
International sales also may be adversely affected by actions taken by the U.S. Government in the exercise of foreign policy, Congressional oversight or the financing of particular programs, including the prevention or imposition of conditions upon the sale and delivery of our products, the imposition of sanctions, or Congressional action to block sales of our products.”
“For example,” they state, “the U.S. Government has imposed certain sanctions on Turkish entities and persons as described in the risk factor below, and could act in the future to prevent or restrict sales to other customers, including the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.”
Unsurprisingly, then, the military industrial complex has lobbied the government hard to continue supporting the violence. Ronald L. Perrilloux Jr., an executive with Lockheed Martin, denounced the wave of “patently false” “hostile media reports” about Saudi atrocities, described human rights laws as a “significant irritant,” and argued that the best thing to do is help the Saudis “finish the job” in Yemen by “provid[ing] them with the benefit of our experiences, with training of their forces, and probably replenishment of their forces.”
His counterpart at Boeing, retired Air Force Lt. Gen. Jeffrey Kohler, agreed, arguing that weapons transfers were actually a force for stability. “When you sell somebody a big platform like an F-15, you build a 30-plus-year relationship with that air force,” he said.
BAEing for blood
If the public had their way, U.S. involvement would cease. A 2018 poll found that 82% of respondents wanted Congress to act to halt or decrease arms shipments to Saudi Arabia. American law already bans the sale of weapons to human rights abusing countries, but this legislation is constantly ignored (conservative estimates suggest Washington is supplying military aid to almost three-quarters of the world’s dictatorships).
According to data from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, around three-quarters of all Saudi military purchases come from American companies. Much of the rest comes from Great Britain. Riyadh’s top ten suppliers since 2015 are as follows (with percentage of total sales in parentheses):
- United States (74%)
- United Kingdom (12%)
- France (4%)
- Canada (2%)
- Spain (2%)
- Germany (1%)
- Italy (1%)
- China (1%)
- Switzerland (1%)
- Turkey (<1%)
The British figure is dominated by BAE Systems, which has closed deals worth over $24 billion with Saudi Arabia since it began bombing Yemen, documents obtained by the CAAT show. CAAT’s Bayes told MintPress:
BAE Systems’ U.K.-made Typhoon and Tornado aircraft have been central to Saudi Arabia’s devastating attacks on Yemen. BAE Systems also has 6,300 employees in Saudi Arabia supporting the Saudi Air Force as part of the British-Saudi Defence Cooperation Programme, and we know [it] sends weekly shipments by air to the Saudi armed forces from its own private airport.
Thus, while a figure between $28.3 billion and $63.0 billion is already monstrous, it tells only part of the story. The likes of Boeing, Raytheon and Lockheed Martin were already supplying the Saudi government with weapons long before the conflict began — Boeing since 1945, Lockheed Martin since 1965, and Raytheon since 1966. American arms companies continue to supply other members of the Saudi-led Coalition with similar arms. That number will continue to rise, as deals negotiated with the Trump administration come to fruition.
Therefore, the true extent to which the military industrial complex is profiting off some of the most extreme suffering in the world is still not completely clear. All that is known is that the Saudis pay in petrodollars and the Yemenis pay in blood.
Feature photo | Then-Vice President Joe Biden, right, stands in the Oval Office of the White House during a meeting between President Barack Obama and King Salman of Saudi Arabia, 2015. Evan Vucci | AP
Alan MacLeod is Senior Staff Writer for MintPress News. After completing his PhD in 2017 he published two books: Bad News From Venezuela: Twenty Years of Fake News and Misreporting and Propaganda in the Information Age: Still Manufacturing Consent, as well as a number of academic articles. He has also contributed to FAIR.org, The Guardian, Salon, The Grayzone, Jacobin Magazine, and Common Dreams.