Saudi Military Spending Increasingly Focused on Offensive Capabilities

Defending Their Own Territory Less of a Priority

Early in his presidency, President Obama made increasing military exports a major priority, and those increased exports were focused heavily on oil-rich Middle Eastern nations like Saudi Arabia. The Saudis, who had long had a relatively basic defensive capability, started investing heavily in more advanced US arms. By the end of Obama’s second term, Saudi Arabia was one of the highest military spenders on earth, sucking up some 8% of their annual GDP.

You can only spend so much money on defense though. A new study from IHS Jane’s is showing that, while the Saudis intend to continue increasing their already staggering military budget, they are shifting decisively away from defensive equipment and toward increasing their offensive capabilities.

The 2015 Saudi invasion of Yemen has been a big driving force in the budget, as well as in future Saudi military planning, as the expectation that they’d quickly overrun the smaller and poorer nation didn’t pan out, and a large amount of Saudi spending became dedicated to US munitions to drop on Yemen.

That the Saudi attack on Yemen didn’t produce a quick victory appears to have led their purchasers to conclude they aren’t buying the right things to go attacking neighbors, and as they continue to ratchet up tensions with the region’s Shi’ites they want that offensive capability to be more secure.

Yet it’s not clear that sort of capability can really be bought, as even the United States, with its far larger, and far more expensive military, has struggled with open-ended wars in places like Iraq and Afghanistan. Saudi Arabia, then, probably shouldn’t hope to be any more effective by simply buying a subset of the same US arsenal for its own wars of aggression.

Author: Jason Ditz

Jason Ditz is news editor of