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Wed 15 Aug 2012 10:24 AM

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Lockheed sees more MidEast missile defence demand

Saudi and its regional partners have shown interest in an advanced missile-defence system

Lockheed sees more MidEast missile defence demand
(Image for illustrative purposes)

Saudi Arabia and its closest regional partners have shown interest in the purchase of an advanced Lockheed Martin Corporation missile-defence system to counter perceived threats, executives of the Pentagon's top supplier said Tuesday.

"Look, all of the [Gulf Cooperation Council] nations have an interest," Dennis Cavin, a company vice president for army and missile-defence programmes, told a teleconference.

The council known as GCC is a political and economic alliance linking Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the UAE, Qatar, Bahrain and Oman.

Lockheed, the Pentagon's number one supplier by sales, received an initial, US$1.96bn contract in December for two of its so-called Terminal High-Altitude Area Defence (THAAD) weapon systems for the UAE.

This marked the first foreign sale of the system, coming as tensions with Iran have risen over its disputed nuclear programme. Such foreign sales are increasingly important to US arms makers as the Pentagon's budget flattens because of US deficit-reduction requirements.

THAAD is a US Army system designed to shoot down short-, medium- and intermediate-range ballistic missiles with an interceptor that slams into its target. It can accept cues from Lockheed's Aegis weapons system, satellites and other external sensors and work in tandem with the Patriot PAC-3 terminal air-defence missile.

Fueling the interest in THAAD, Cavin said, was a US military push to stitch together an integrated air and missile defence architecture across the region as well as what he called a recognition by GCC states that "they need the best capability they can get against the threat set that's there."

Mat Joyce, Lockheed's vice president for THAAD, said it was premature to discuss specific potential buyers "but as they notify the US government officially of their interest we'll be happy to provide that information to you".

Cavin and Joyce spoke from Huntsville, Alabama, during a space and missile-defence conference. THAAD is part of a layered missile shield being built to defend the US and its friends and allies against ballistic missiles of all ranges and in all phases of flight. The system is being optimised as a hedge against Iran and North Korea.

A major US-led effort is under way to protect NATO's European territory against ballistic missiles that could be fired by Iran, for instance, in retaliation for any preemptive strike against Iranian nuclear facilities.

Lockheed describes THAAD as the only system with the flexibility to intercept targets both inside and outside the earth's atmosphere.

Other leading missile-defence contractors include Boeing Company, Raytheon Company and Northrop Grumman Corporation.

President Barack Obama's administration notified Congress last month of a possible sale to Kuwait of 60 PATRIOT Advanced Capability (PAC-3) missiles and associated gear in a deal worth up to US$4.2bn.

Such a sale would help deter regional threats among other things, the Pentagon's Defence Security Cooperation said in the notice to lawmakers.

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