WASHINGTON The Obama administration told Congress on Wednesday it planned to sell Kuwait the latest production version of Raytheon Co's Patriot interceptor missile amid concerns over Iran's growing missile capabilities.
Kuwait seeks as many as 209 MIM-104E Patriot Guidance Enhanced Missile-T (GEM-T) interceptors valued at up to $900 million, the Pentagon's Defense Security Cooperation Agency said in a notice to lawmakers.
"Kuwait needs these missiles to meet current and future threats of enemy air-to-ground weapons," the notice said. It said Kuwait would use the increased capability as a deterrent to regional threats and to strengthen its homeland defense.
The GEM-T is designed to counter a range of enemy missile and air threats, including tactical ballistic missiles that could be tipped with chemical, biological or nuclear weapons.
Top Pentagon officials told Congress in April that Iran could produce enough highly enriched uranium for a single nuclear weapon in as little as a year but would probably need three to five years to assemble, test and deploy it.
Western powers fear Iran seeks to develop nuclear weapons under the guise of a civilian electricity generating program, a charge Tehran denies.
Kenneth Katzman, a Middle East expert at the Congressional Research Service, said the proposed sale was part of a U.S. drive to contain growing Iranian military clout "and prepare for the possibility Iran might acquire a nuclear capability."
The United States also has expanded land- and sea-based missile defense systems in and around Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, U.S. officials have said. In addition, it has been helping build a layered shield for Israel.
General David Petraeus, who as then-head of the U.S. Central Command was responsible for military operations across the Middle East, said in January that the United States had stationed eight Patriot missile batteries in four Gulf countries he did not identify.
The newly proposed sale to Kuwait would not alter the basic military balance in the region, the Pentagon told Congress.
"The sale would contribute to the foreign policy and national security of the United States by helping to improve the security of a major Non-NATO ally which has been, and continues to be, an important force for political stability and economic progress in the Middle East," it said.
The notice of a potential sale is required by law and does not mean the sale has been concluded. Congress has 30 days to review the proposed sale.
The prime contractor would be Waltham, Massachusetts-based Raytheon, the world's biggest missile maker.
(Reporting by Jim Wolf; Editing by Sandra Maler and Jerry Norton)