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Royal Saudi Naval Forces (RSNF) Facilities

The naval expansion program formally began in January 1972, when Saudi Arabia and the United States signed a general memorandum of understanding establishing the concepts that the US Army Corps of Engineers would provide construction management and other procurement support and would design and build new deepwater ports on the Arabian Gulf at Jubayl and on the Red Sea at Jiddah. These ports would include facilities for ship docking, drydocking and repair, fuel storage, and maintenance, as well as training, living, and recreation for naval personnel. The construction program also included a headquarters complex for the Saudi Navy in Riyadh. The Corps was to provide fully equipped and operable facilities, including stocks, equipment, spare parts, furniture, fixtures, and operational equipment.

Despite the small size of the Saudi Navy, the Saudi Naval Expansion Program developed into the second largest construction program the US Corps of Engineers managed in Saudi Arabia, even though the expenditures fell far short of the levels of spending imagined for it in the mid-1970s.

The scope of the construction expanded rapidly and dramatically; the Saudi naval command directed the Corps to initiate designs that would extend construction through the 1980s. By October 1974, only thirteen months after receiving approval of the initial master plan, the Corps estimated SNEP construction costs at $1 billion. Changes in scope, inflation of 25–30 percent, and the intense competition for resources engendered by the construction boom in Saudi Arabia accounted for the increased costs. Costs continued to escalate; by the time the construction program had run its course, in the mid-1980s, SNEP had absorbed $3.7 billion.

In February and March 1974, the Mediterranean Division awarded the design contracts for ports at Jiddah, to be called King Faisal Naval Base, and at Jubayl, the King Abdulaziz Naval Base. Each naval base was essentially a small city with the appropriate family housing, schools, shopping, and recreational facilities in addition to the training, maintenance, and support facilities for the naval personnel and vessels stationed there. The design contract for the off-shore facilities at both sites was $1.5 million and for the on-shore facilities $4.7 million. Most of the design work went to the same firm that had prepared the master plan—Parsons, Basil. With few exceptions, the two naval bases had similar capabilities and similar construction plans. In general, the designs were created for Jubayl and then site adapted for Jiddah.

The area selected for development at Jiddah had long been the municipal garbage dump. Approachable in 1974 only by a narrow road, the site lay south of the city across a stretch of tidal flats and just beyond an ancient slaughterhouse that, although still active, had declined over the years. About three-fourths of the buildings associated with the slaughterhouse were in some sort of decay, falling in. Everything about it looked rotten. Cleaning up the Jiddah site enough to permit construction cost about two-and-a half times the $10 million spent for site preparation at Jubayl.

On April 20, 1976, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Middle East Division (MED) was formed to oversee construction programs in Saudi Arabia, which by that time had become extensive. These included the construction portion of the $2.5 billion Saudi Naval Expansion Program, which included the building of deepwater ports at Jubail and Jiddah, an interim repair facility at Dammam, and the naval headquarters complex at Riyadh. MED oversaw additional work in Oman, Qatar, Egypt, Jordan, and Somalia during this period. The Saudi program was phased out in 1988 by which time MED had become the Middle East/Africa Projects Office (MEAPO) headquartered at Winchester. Eventually, MEAPO evolved into the Transatlantic Programs Center and then the Middle East District.

The construction contracts for off-shore facilities at both Jiddah and Jubayl called for ship-repair facilities featuring the Syncrolift system. Early in the program (June 1974), the Mediterranean Division contracted with Pearlson Engineering Company of Miami, Florida, to provide both ports with Syncrolift at a cost of $3.4 million. The Syncrolift system featured two closely spaced piers between which a ship would float over a lifting mechanism that operated on synchronous electric motors. The motors lifted the ship out of the water on a carrier resembling a railroad car, and the ship was then pulled into a dry slip for maintenance and repair. Each port received a ship-repair facility with four slips, thus allowing several ships, depending on the length of each, to receive attention simultaneously.

Although the construction plans for the two ports were similar, as construction progressed, the work at Jiddah fell behind schedule. Site cleanup, which involved razing the old slaughterhouse and filling in the dump, took longer than planned. The Jiddah harbor was not as deep as the master plan anticipated, so more dredging was necessary, which also led to delays and increased costs. Dredging was further slowed by a grounded freighter.18 Finally, at the Jiddah site, three different contractors from three different nations competed for space, one building off-shore facilities and two others working on shore. At Jubayl, one contractor, Hyundai, handled both off- and on-shore construction, making coordination easier.

At Jubayl, foundation work for the on-shore facilities began early in 1977; but not everything proceeded smoothly. In March, just as work on the on-shore facilities began, Hyundai workers rioted because of poor living conditions and harsh treatment by their supervisors. The rioting workers destroyed structures, beat several people, and burned vehicles. At Jiddah, construction proceeded in 1977 without incident.

The first U.S. naval vessel, the USS Elmer Montgomery, berthed at the King Abdulaziz Naval Base at Jubayl in July 1979. RSNF ships arrived at Jiddah for the first time in September, when four RSNF minesweepers and a U.S. Navy escort ship stopped there en route on their 63-day voyage from Virginia to Jubayl. Offshore facilities were incomplete; but the channel configuration and the other piers proved outstanding. Between May and October 1980, Hyundai finished work at Jubayl on community-support facilities, warehouse space, and a building for the ship-repair facility. When King Khalid officially dedicated the base in late November, work was not yet complete.

At Jiddah, construction advanced less quickly than at Jubayl. In January 1980, when not all the housing under construction was ready for occupancy, personnel from the Royal Saudi Navy and from the contractors providing operations and maintenance—Hughes, Bendix, Holmes, and Narver—began jointly to use the available housing.

By the end of 1980, the naval bases at Jubayl and Jiddah each consisted of three main groups of completed facilities: off-shore harbor and ship facilities, on-shore facilities to support the naval mission directly, and facilities to support the RSNF personnel.



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