WASHINGTON — An Egyptian procurement of 356 AGM-114K/R3 Hellfire II missiles has been cleared by the State Department, the first new procurement since the White House lifted a freeze on weapon sales to that nation.
The sale also comes as Egypt takes part in anti-militant operations in Yemen, which the US is indirectly aiding with logistical support.
If the sale is given the OK by Congress and details are worked out between the two governments, it would represent the first ever sale of the R model of Hellfire weapons to Egypt. Egyptian military forces currently operate the F and K variants. of the weapon.
The sale, with a projected cost of $57 million, would occur under a Foreign Military Sales agreement. Lockheed Martin would be the prime contractor, with work occurring at its Orlando, Florida, facility.
The announcement of the sale, posted on the Defense Security Cooperation Agency's website, noted that it would help "improve the security of a friendly country that has been and continues to be an important force for political stability and economic progress in the Middle East."
"Egypt will use the enhanced capability as a deterrent to regional threats and to strengthen its homeland defense," the notice reads.
While the justification statement on weapon sales notifications are usually bland, those two statements are notable, given current events.
On March 31, the Obama administration ended a freeze on weapon sales to Egypt that had been put in place following a military coup in October of 2013. Although limited military gear was sold to Egypt, the US was largely restricting the big sales that Egypt – and US industry – had come to expect from America.
As soon as the freeze ended, a held-up sale of 12 F-16 aircraft, 20 Harpoon missiles and up to 125 M1A1 Abrams tank kits was cleared, and the administration promised to "modernize" its military ties to Egypt in the coming years.
The administration's policy change came just days after Egypt announced it would take part in Operation Decisive Storm, a Saudi-led operation against militants in Yemen.
It is unclear if this Hellfire sale is directly related to Egypt's participation in that operation. On Tuesday, media reports out of Riyadh quoted US Deputy Secretary of State Antony Blinken as saying the US would speed up weapon procurement for those nations acting in Yemen.
Asked whether the Hellfire sale was a new request related directly to Operation Decisive Storm, a State Department official directed questions to the Egyptian government, but did note the "robust, long-standing security relationship with Saudi Arabia and other partners in the gulf region."
"Given the current operational needs, we are making every effort to expedite security assistance to coalition forces," the official wrote in an email. "The State Department is acting promptly on requests for military capabilities from our Gulf partners, in partnership with the Department of Defense."
While not conducting operating any direct strikes, the US is assisting the gulf state coalition with logistical support that includes air refueling, capability, combat search and rescue, and intelligence. There are about a dozen US representatives at a Joint Fusion Center that is coordinating the attacks.
On Wednesday, a Pentagon spokesman said that number was "scalable" but that there are no current plans to grow the US presence at the Joint Fusion Center.
Aaron Mehta was deputy editor and senior Pentagon correspondent for Defense News, covering policy, strategy and acquisition at the highest levels of the Defense Department and its international partners.