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FILE PHOTO - A Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) interceptor is launched from the Pacific Spaceport Complex Alaska during Flight Experiment THAAD (FET)-01 in Kodiak, Alaska, U.S. on July 30, 2017. Picture taken on July 30, 2017. Courtesy Leah Garton/Missile Defense Agency/Handout via REUTERS

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. State Department has approved the possible sale of a THAAD anti-missile defence system to Saudi Arabia at an estimated cost of $15 billion (11.48 billion pounds), the Pentagon said on Friday, in a statement citing Iran among regional threats.

Saudi Arabia asked to purchase 44 Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) launchers and 360 missiles, as well as fire control stations and radars.

"This sale furthers U.S. national security and foreign policy interests, and supports the long-term security of Saudi Arabia and the Gulf region in the face of Iranian and other regional threats," the Pentagon's Defense Security Cooperation agency said in a statement.

Iran has one of the biggest ballistic missile programs in the Middle East, viewing it as an essential precautionary defence against the United States and other adversaries, primarily Gulf Arab states and Israel.

THAAD missile systems are deployed to defend against ballistic missile attacks.

Lockheed Martin Co is the prime contractor for the THAAD system, with Raytheon Co playing an important role in the system's deployment.

The United States deployed THAAD to South Korea this year to guard against North Korea's shorter-range missiles. That has drawn fierce criticism from China, which says the system's powerful radar can probe deep into its territory.

(Reporting by Mohammad Zargham and Chris Sanders; Editing by Eric Walsh and Tom Brown)

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