U.S. Approves Continued Support for Saudi Arabia’s Tactical Air Surveillance System (TASS) Aircraft

The U.S. State Department has approved continued support for Saudi Arabia’s Tactical Air Surveillance System (TASS) aircraft under the Foreign Military Sales (FMS) program for an estimated cost of $136 million.

The Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA) delivered the required certification notifying Congress of this possible sale on May 24, 2019.

Saudi Arabia has requested to purchase spare and repair parts, U.S. Government and contractor engineering, technical, and logistics support services, and other related elements of program support for their TASS (Tactical Air Surveillance System) aircraft program. Additionally, the sale will support rehabilitation of the integrated lab located in the United States used for testing and troubleshooting.

The Congressional review requirements, under Section 36(b) of the Arms Export Control Act, has been waived for the sale as the U.S. Secretary of State “determined and provided detailed justification that an emergency exists that requires the immediate sale to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia of the above defense articles (and defense services) in the national security interests of the United States”.

The DSCA said in a statement that this proposed sale will support the foreign policy and national security of the United States by helping to improve the security of a key regional ally which is an important force for political stability and economic progress in the Middle East.

This is a continuation of a previous sustainment case and will improve Saudi Arabia’s surveillance capability to counter current and future regional threats and strengthen its homeland defense.

The prime contractor will be L3 Technologies, Greenville, Texas. Implementation of this proposed sale will require the assignment of up to 25 additional L3 contractor representatives to Saudi Arabia, said the DSCA statement.

RE-3A Tactical Airborne Surveillance System (TASS) are signals intelligence (SIGINT) aircraft operated by the Royal Saudi Air Force (RSAF), equipped with an extensive array of sophisticated electronic intelligence gathering equipment.

The aircraft’s onboard sensor suite allows the mission crew to detect, identify and geolocate signals throughout the electromagnetic spectrum with ease up to 130 nautical miles (240 km) away. The aircraft seats more than 30 people, including the cockpit crew, electronic warfare officers, intelligence operators and in-flight maintenance technicians.


Saudi Arabia procured five E-3 Sentry AWACS (Airborne Early Warning and Control) aircraft and eight KE-3A aerial refueling tankers under the 1981 – 1986 “Peace Sentinel” program. KE-3As are not AWACS aircraft but CFM56 powered tankers based on the E-3 design.

Out of the eight KE-3s, up to three were later converted to RE-3A TASS aircraft. One RE-3A was later modified into RE-3B Improved Tactical Airborne Surveillance System (ITASS) aircraft.

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