By Marco Dijkshoorn
By far the largest country of the Arabian peninsula with its 2.2 million sq km, Saudi Arabia is bordered to the south-east by Oman, Yemen and the United Arab Emirates, to the north by Iraq and Kuwait, and to the west by Jordan.
In the early 18th century the Al-Saud, the ruling family of modern Saudi Arabia, were the ruling sheikhs of the oasis village of Dir'aiyah, near modern Riyadh. When they formed an alliance, in the mid-18th century, with Mohammed bin Abdul Wahhab, the result was Wahhabism, the back-to-basics religious movement which is still Saudi Arabia's official form of Islam. In 1812 the Ottoman Empire retook western Arabia, and by the end of the 19th century the Al-Saud had retreated to Kuwait. One of the great Al-Saud leaders, known as Ibn Saud, retook Riyadh and then, in 1925, Jeddah. In 1938, commercial quantities of oil were found in Saudi Arabia, and when WWII started oil production really took off. This resulted in growing kingdom's royalties. The Arab oil embargo, in 1973-74, increased the price of oil fourfold and Saudi Arabia became a world power. For Muslims the two holy cities of Mecca and Medina are very important and annual pilgrimages are organized.
Source (among others) Lonely Planet
That religion is very important in Saudi Arabia is also reflected in the Royal Saudi Armed Forces fin flashes which represent the legend "La Illaha Illa Allah wa Muhammad Ursul Allah" (There is no god but God and Mohammed in his prophet) written in Arabic writing that needs to be read from right to left.
Despite the fact that it is very hard to visit Saudi Arabia for Westerners, the Saudi forces are equipped with mainly western hardware. Main suppliers are the United States of America and the United Kingdom. When Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1990, the Saudis asked the USA to send troops to defend the kingdom and there has been a US presence in Saudi Arabia since. Both the UK (With BAE Systems as one of the prime contractors) and the US are involved in training programs conducted in Saudi Arabia.
For Middle Eastern standards the armed forces of Saudi Arabia are relatively small. Its strength however is derived from advanced technology and not from numerical superiority. This is why the armed forces are under a continuing modernization program. The backbone of the fighter force is formed by 134 Tornados from which a batch of 48 Tornado IDS was ordered in 1993 under the al-Yamamah II program and 72 F-15S aircraft delivered from the mid-90s that operate besides the 41 F-15C/D aircraft delivered in the early 90s. Aircraft training is executed on the Pilatus PC-9, BAe Hawk, Boeing F-15D Eagle and the Northrop F-5F Tiger II. Like in many other countries the C-130 is the mainstay of the Transport fleet and the Hercules is assisted by CASA CN-235s. Reconnaissance is performed by 17sq with their RF-5E and the Boeing E-3A is the Airborne Early Warning platform operated by 18sq.
The VIP support fleet of the Al-Saud family consists of a wide variety of civil registered aircraft such as the Boeing B707, B737 and B747, Lockheed Tri-Stars, MD11s and G1159A as well as Lockheed L-100-30. The HZ- prefix used in the civilian registrations of these aircraft derived from the former name of the territory (HejaZ)
The RSAF units are divided into Wings that are dispersed across the seven air bases. They are:
- RSAF Wing 1 at ?
- RSAF Wing 2 at Taif
- RSAF Wing 3 at Dharan
- RSAF Wing 4 at Riyadh
- RSAF Wing 5 at Khamis Mushayt
- RSAF Wing 6 at Al Karj
- RSAF Wing 7 at Tabuk
- RSAF Wing 8 at Jeddah
- RSAF Wing 11 at Dharan
The Royal Saudi Land Forces received its own aircraft in 1986 when the US Congress agreed with the delivery of 15 Bell 406CS Combat Scout that were eventually delivered in the second half of 1990. Earlier that same year the RSLAF received 13 S-70A Black Hawks. The RSLF received 12 Boeing AH-64A Apaches in 1993.
When the first of 24 ASW equipped SA365F Dauphins were delivered in 1985, the RSNF gained its Air Arm. These were in the early 90s supplemented by twelve AS332F-1 Super Puma's.
The first of three new aviation brigades for the Saudi Arabian National Guard (SANG) is now fully operational at Khashm Al-Ain airfield, the new purpose build base south east of Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. The SANG as an aviation force didn't exist up to a few years ago. Twelve MD Helicopters MD 530F helicopters were delivered in 2013 to start training. By now the 1st Aviation Brigade at Khashm Al-An has at least two fully equipped battalions with 24 Sikorsky UH-60M Black Hawk and twelve Boeing AH-64E Apache Guardian helicopters. A third battalion is in the process of receiving, or has by now all initial twelve Boeing AH-6is armed scout helicopters. Twelve more are to follow to fully equip the 1st Aviation Brigade. After some delays the first AH-6i helicopters were airlifted as cargo to Riyadh by June 2017. In October 2017 the first MD 50F students graduated from the AH-6i course.
The development of the SANG's aviation capabilities has been in progress since the concept was first created in 2008. The 2nd Aviation Brigade will follow at Hofuf, on the east coast, in 2019, and the 3rd Aviation Brigade near Jeddah in 2021 with more AH-64E, AH-6i and UH-60M helicopters on order. 4th Aviation Brigade is being stood up at Dirab, south-southwest of Riyadh and will most likely receive the MD 530F training helicopters.