Prince Sultan Air Base
Al Kharj, Saudi Arabia
U.S. officials transferred control of portions of Prince Sultan Air Base to Saudi officials at a ceremony on Aug. 26, 2003. The U.S. pullout was scheduled to be completed then early September 2003.
The Prince Sultan Air Base is located 80km south of Riyadh. During the decade following Operation Desert Storm, it was host to upwards of 4,500 US military personnel and an undisclosed number of aircraft. During mid-2003 the roughly 4,500 US troops at Prince Sultan redeployed from Saudi Arabia to Qatar, leaving about 500 in Saudi Arabia, primarily at Eskan Village.
The Saudi base is very large, and it has extensive landing and plane storage facilities, with the American enclave located inside the much larger secure 80-square-mile base of the Royal Saudi Air Force. A good way of looking at Prince Sultan / Al Kharj is as a large parking lot. It has an immense 15,000-foot runway with a parking area. But as early as 1994 -- except for some construction under way -- there was nothing there. This plot of desert -- in the middle of nowhere -- was known as "Al Kharj" or "Al's Garage" during Operations Desert Shield and Storm.
When the US Air Force arrived in Saudi Arabia to support Operation Desert Shield/Desert Storm, some Saudi bases were modern facilities, while others were little more than a runway, a parking ramp, and sand. Facilities for more aircraft were needed closer to the Kuwaiti border, so a new base was constructed at Al Kharj, about 60 miles south of Riyadh. Al Kharj, one of the sites selected to receive Phase II aircraft, was a classic bare base location. It had been programmed as a massive Saudi military installation, but only a runway, a taxiway, and a parking apron had been constructed.
During Desert Shield, coalition forces found it necessary to build what was then called Al Kharj from scratch. From October 1990 to March 1991, a combined 435-person RED HORSE squadron was involved in more than 25 major projects, valued at more than $14.6 million. These included bedding down the largest air base in theater (in terms of number of aircraft -- capable of bedding down five fighter squadrons) at Al Kharj Air Base. Erecting 17 K-Span facilities and carving out roads, they created a theater munitions storage depot. RED HORSE, augmented by the 4th CES from Seymour Johnson AFB, NC, and contract personnel, hauled 200,000 cubic yards of clay to build a foot-thick clay foundation for tent city. Eventually, they erected a tent city, set up four kitchens, an air transportable hospital, six K-span structures, and support facilities. They built munitions storage areas and bladder berms, completed utility distribution systems, and installed mobile aircraft arresting systems. In less than two months in 1990, Al Kharj changed from a base without buildings and only a ramp and runways, to one with tents to support dining halls, hangars, a hospital, electric power generators, and services for an expanded population of Air Force personnel. Al Kharj was ready for aircraft early in January 1991, and by the beginning of the war was home to 4,900 Air Force personnel.
As some troops redeployed, additional personnel continued to arrive in March and April 1991. Reserve and Air National Guard Prime BEEF teams deployed to Al Kharj and King Fahd, respectively, to help close down the sites.
Attacks on the Office of the Program Manager/Saudi Arabia National Guard (OPM/SANG) in November 1995 and on the Khobar Towers living compound in June 1996 forever changed the way in which the Armed Forces will regard terrorism in the Persian Gulf. Both bombings also served to prove that regional security dynamics can have an impact on US forces deployed in the area. To deter and prevent hostile acts, air activities were moved from King Abd Al-Aziz air base in Dhahran and Riyadh air base to a compound inside a much larger tightly secured, 80-square-mile Royal Saudi Air Force Prince Sultan Air Base adjacent to the city of Al Kharj, south of Riyadh. The rationale for this shift was to move forces from populated areas, where perpetrators of terrorist acts could easily disappear, to locales where space and terrain could be used to advantage.
The relocation to Prince Sultan AB -- 50 miles southeast of Riyadh, affected thousands of airman at Dhahran, and at Riyadh Air Base and Eskan Village in Saudi Arabia's capital city.
The Air Force compound at Prince Sultan initially consisted of row after row of tan-colored tents and wide sandy roads where HumVee's travel up and down as if they were back home. Enginieers from the 823rd RED HORSE Squadron at Hurlburt Field, Fla., erected temper tents which consist of an environmental liner to hold in air conditioning or heat and a top fly for air flow. The tents have lights, extra plugs and air conditioning. Outside the tent city, there's flight line as far as the eye can see.
Before the mass landing at Prince Sultan AB, a few people lived at what is known as Oscar Site on another portion of the base. Oscar Site personnel are responsible for munitions support in the AOR. Since no tents were set up when the first influx of personnel arrived, Oscar Site personnel helped out all they could. Airmen lived up to eight in a tent and have to walk to showers, meals and toilet facilities.
In 1997 the Saudi Ministry of Defense and Aviation awarded Northrop's Electronic Sensors and Systems Division (ESSD) a contract worth $60.7 million for a turnkey ATC system at the Prince Sultan Air Base complex. ESSD designed and constructed facilities and integrate and install ATC, navigation, meteorological and communications subsystems at the Prince Sultan air base complex.
Living conditions for troops at Prince Sultan Air Base took a step forward in late 1998 with the acceptance of the new Friendly Forces Housing Complex, roughly two miles from Prince Sultan Air Base. The new 4,257-bed facility took nearly two years to build and became home in early 1999 to more than 4,000 US, British and French coalition forces involved with Operation Southern Watch. The new housing facility is similar to a college dormitory complex featuring permanent structures and some comforts of home such as shared television and living areas in each apartment. It also has three community dining halls, a gymnasium, recreation center, library, pool and probably the most important feature to the troops -- a lot more privacy. Built at a cost of approximately $112 million by the host government, the housing complex remains the property of the Saudi government but is primarily run and maintained by US forces. Security of the complex is also the responsibility of coalition security forces. The first forces to move in was the 363rd Air Expeditionary Wing already at Prince Sultan.
On 22 June 1999 Prince Sultan Ibn Abdul Aziz, Second Deputy Prime Minister, Minister of Defense and Aviation and Inspector-General, laid the foundation stone for the Prince Sultan Health Center in Al-Kharj. Prince Sultan had donated a total of SR 22 million (U.S. $ 5.87 million) to this project.
Prince Sultan also unveiled plaques commemorating the opening of the Prince Sultan Air Base, and marking the completion of the residential complexes and educational facilities, for which Prince Sultan laid the foundation stones a little under two years previously. The project of the Air Base was first conceived in the late 1980s, and had involved ten contractors and total funding of over SR 4 billion (U.S. $ 1.07 billion).
Personnel landing at PSAB are immediately struck by the vastness of the place. If there is one thing that the Saudis have plenty of (besides oil) it would be flat real estate. The base is approximately 25 by 40 miles. The runways, maintenance hangars and "Ops Town" are physically located about 15 miles from the "Coalition Complex," where personnel sleep, eat and exercise. Barbed wire fences, vehicle barriers, motion detectors and check -points mark the journey from Ops Town to CC. A row of yellowish street lights cast an eerie glow down the fence line. The cheerful Air Force security guard with the smile almost belies the seriousness of the place. The M-16 slung over her shoulder and the 50 caliber machine gun bunker behind her reminds you just how serious this is. The Air Force has never forgotten the Khobar Towers.
Just the mention of the name can send shivers up and down the spine of anyone who has been threatened with a deployment here. The name is Prince Sultan Airbase, Saudi Arabia. It conjures up thoughts of intense heat, dust, sand, and scorpions. You're not in hell, but you sure can feel the heat from there. With 15 knots of wind, the daily 115 degree temperatures feels like you are in a giant hair dryer. Highs reach into the 110's routinely. The maintainers are coping by drinking as much water as they can. Bottled water is available to everyone here in mass quantities. To keep from dehydrating members of the 363rd AEW are told to drink a bottle of water every hour. One bottle is a half-liter. During periods of exercise or intense labor that amount should be doubled.
Another problem to deal with is the sand. The country is, for the most part, completely covered in sand. When the wind picks up it takes the sand with it. Even when the wind isn't blowing, the sand gets kicked into the air by walking, driving and other daily activities. This sand gets into everything. Trying to keep it out of some of the delicate moving parts of the Prowler takes attention to detail. That sand can contaminate the hydraulic fluid or oil and cause some serious problems on a flight.
Other hazards to personnel are the critters the make their home in the desert. The desert is home to such wildlife as scorpions, spiders, and snakes. Generally, all of these creatures will leave humans alone unless they are cornered. This is the problem. The curious will find themselves the victim of a nasty camel spider bite or worse. The camel spider is not deadly but it is aggressive and its bite is very painful. Almost all of the snakes that live in the region are venomous. Of note is the carpet viper. This snake has been seen in and about the living and workspaces. Again, this animal will run rather than fight but if cornered it will strike.
The living conditions help to defer the pain. With air-conditioned rooms and "Hollywood" showers, one can make himself very comfortable here in PSAB. The base gym rivals that of Whidbey's. With weights, machines, treadmills, racquetball, basketball, and volleyball courts one can find it easy to get in shape and lose that last couple of pounds. The gym has a fitness program that lets service members log their miles, and they get T-shirts for every hundred miles they achieve. The base theater shows current run movies and there is always a movie playing in the common areas in each of the "dorms." But what makes the heat bearable is the base pool. The water is always a cool 82 degrees, the sun is always shining and scenery is nice too. All things considered, the heat can be overcome.
Living quarters are located on a section of PSAB designated for Westerners. These facilities consist of a complex of multiple three-story dwellings. Each bedroom has at least one wall locker and a private bath with tub and shower. For TDY people there may be two persons assigned to a room. Each floor has a free laundry room with washer and dryer. On each floor is a common kitchen with a refrigerator and microwave oven. On each floor there is a common living room area with a large television with multiple cable channels and several movie channels. The telephone with DSN capability is also located in this area. In the area immediate outside of the apartments are large wooden chairs that recline, barbeque pit and a large wooden table.
There are two military dining facilities in walking distance of the living quarters. There is another dining facility located in the work area if you don't work near the common western LIVING QUARTERS. Meals at all these facilities are free to TDY persons and automatic payroll deduction for PCS service members who dine there. There is also a Burger King and Pizza Inn available to those who choose to dine elsewhere.
Prince Sultan Air Base's Boot Hill Cemetery has quietly been attracting attention of its own. It's even become a stop on the tours for some of the distinguished visitors passing through. Located off the beaten path in the fuels main bulk storage area, Boot Hill Cemetery is exactly that, a cemetery for boots. Local legend has it that if fuels troops bury their boots there before leaving PSAB, they'll never have to return. With the prospect of not returning to PSAB on the line, superstitions about Boot Hill run high, and one glance will tell visitors that a lot of care has gone into constructing and maintaining the area. Although the exact origin of the cemetery is questionable, it is known that members of the 4404th Wing Fuels Management Flight constructed the original back when the 4404th was located in Dhahran Air Base.
The Rapid Biological Agent Identification initiative fielded equipment at Prince Sultan Air Base (PSAB), Saudi Arabia, which was used to identify a salmonella outbreak in 1999. The system identified the source 3-4 days faster than conventional testing methods, preventing up to 4,000 personnel from potentially becoming incapacitated with a food-borne illness and limited the outbreak to 3% of the base population. Additionally, the first-ever AF Biological Augmentation Team has been formally activated at the 363 EMG, Prince Sultan Air Base, Saudi Arabia. A new UTC was requested and approved to accommodate this new medical capability.
News reports in April 2000 quoted an anonymous U.S. military official saying that Defense Secretary William S. Cohen and Saudi Defense and Aviation Minister Prince Sultan agreed to reduce troop levels at Prince Sultan Air Base. "The story is complete hogwash," said Pentagon spokesman Ken Bacon. "We have no plans to reduce the number of airmen or planes at Prince Sultan Air Base, and the topic of reducing airmen in Saudi Arabia was not discussed tonight between Secretary Cohen and Prince Sultan. In fact, Prince Sultan expressed a strong desire for a continued U.S. presence in Saudi Arabia at current levels." U.S. Ambassador to Saudi Arabia Wyche Fowler said there "has been no discussion whatsoever at any level about reduction of American soldiers."
A team from the 819th RED HORSE Squadron, Malmstrom Air Force Base, Mont., deployed to Southwest Asia in October 2000 to pave a munitions supply road at Prince Sultan Air Base. The dirt road serving the western munitions storage area there was in need of constant repair. Ruts and soft spots were making travel difficult. Rather than allow the road to deteriorate and become unstable and unusable for munitions operations, RED HORSE was called in to pave it. The initial design for the project was complete in September 2000, but once construction crews arrived on site it had to be modified due to equipment shortages. Repairing the road surface and preparing it for asphalt pavement required about 20,000 cubic meters of fill material. The crew straightened curves in the middle of the road, removed hills and filled low spots to level the overall road surface. Drainage was provided for on and around the road, and all sand piles on both sides of the road were removed or leveled. The crew placed about 9,500 cubic meters of basecourse and used about 3,200 tons of asphalt to pave 7,000 feet (24 foot wide, or 34 foot including the shoulder) of dirt road. The 17-member team finished the road in December 2000, after honing their wartime readiness skills and providing a quality product to the customer.
By July 2001 facilities in Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Oman were using JP8 for the first time. In Saudi Arabia, at the Riyadh Bulk Plant, additive injectors provide direct JP8 deliveries to U.S. Forces at Prince Sultan Air Base.
Operation Desert Shift transitioned JTF-SWA and the 320th Air Expeditionary Group (AEG) to Prince Sultan Air Base with target date 01 April 2001. This effort included the network infrastructure for the Combined Air Operations Center (CAOC), Headquarters Joint Task Force-Southwest Asia (HQ JTF-SWA) and the Joint Intelligence Center (JIC) located at Prince Sultan Air Base (PSAB), Saudi Arabia. Air Force Communications Agency (AFCA) supported the engineering and installation of the network infrastructure that will support the various command and control (C2) systems to be installed. The network infrastructure includes three network services: Non-Secure Internet Protocol Router Network (NIPRNET) for unclassified and sensitive information processing, Secure Internet Protocol Router Network (SIPRNET)
for Secret-high information processing and Community of Interest Network (COIN) for collateral forces information processing. AFCA requires technical support for information systems to obtain and maintain C2 accreditation, and continuously enhance overall security.
The new Combined Aerospace Operations Center [CAOC -- "KAY-ok"] at Prince Sultan Air Base oversees enforcing the no-fly zone over Iraq as part of Operation Southern Watch. The Air Force celebrated the initial opening of the new CAOC in June 2001 and made it fully operational by mid-July. A combined air operations center is the primary theater command and control, or C2, facility responsible for orchestrating an air campaign for a coalition effort.
Functioning as the nerve center of the air campaign for Operations Southern Watch and Enduring Freedom, the CAOC plans, monitors and directs joint search and rescue, theater missile defense, time critical targeting, battlefield coordination, special operations support, sortie execution and countless other mission critical operations. With hundreds of computers, dozens of servers, racks of video equipment and display screens surrounding you, it might seem like the set of a futuristic movie -- but this is as real as it gets. It's no small task to ensure AOC systems work together and provide reins of command and control to the JFACC. Making these systems hum requires hundreds of people, working in satellite communications, imagery analysis, network design, computer programming, radio systems, systems administration and many other fields. After the bugs are worked out, the Air Force baselines configuration, and Electronic Systems Center, Hanscom AFB, Mass., manages the pieces and parts as a unified system called USQ-163 - currently block 10 - more commonly known as the air operations center.
The Combined Air Operations Center - Experimental experts at Langley Air Force Base, VA was used as a pathfinder to significantly reduce technical and operational risk for the Prince Sultan Air Base Combined Air Operations Center. The team at CAOC-X, which serves as the proving ground for improving and standardizing AOCs worldwide, carefully selected the hardware and software capabilities to emulate those intended for the Prince Sultan AOC. In so doing, CAOC-X, with the help of Central Command Air Force operators, was able to "wring-out" many of the technical and operational challenges that would have been experienced in the desert.
The capabilities being delivered in the first increment are the ability to produce a releasable air tasking order and disseminate it to coalition forces, merge the releasable ATO into a United States-only ATO, create and distribute a releasable air picture, disseminate releasable intelligence products and reduce the hardware footprint in an open coalition environment. Those selected capabilities also formed the nucleus of the first baseline for the AOC weapon system. Called Block 10, this baseline will be enhanced with additional capabilities, which will be added and further developed in future "block" deliveries in much the same way other weapons systems are upgraded. One example of improved capability is the AOC software engine, the theater battle management core system, known as TBMCS. This system, managed by ESC's Combat Air Forces C2 System Program Office, generates and disseminates the air tasking order. The capabilities being delivered to Prince Sultan will also be delivered to other AOCs around the world. The Combined Air Operations Center at Prince Sultan Air Base was completed by late July 2001. In October 2001 the Saudi government agreed that United States would be able to use the command center to coordinate air operations against targets in Afghanistan.
One new project is the construction of the Wing Operations Center for the US Air Force, Prince Sultan Air Base, Saudi Arabia. The single story pre-engineered building is constructed on concrete footings and is inclusive of electrical system with standby generator and transfer panel, plumbing, water and sewer systems, alarm system and a specialized HVAC and filtration system. It includes administrative space with finishes throughout and with raised flooring in some areas for computer and communications cabling. Tentative date for issuance was 8 June 2001. Tentative date for receipt of proposals was 24 July 2001. Construction period was approximately 8 months.
The Air Force Contract Augmentation Program (AFCAP) is a cost-plus award fee contract designed to provide on-call capability in a wide range of contingency civil engineer and services support (except crash/fire rescue, explosive ordnance disposal, mortuary affairs and field exchanges). The current AFCAP contractor is Readiness Management Support L.C. a subsidiary of Johnson Controls. The RMS contract team is actively involved in two 12-month task orders that provide 35 power generator mechanics and 16 engineers at four locations in Southwest Asia. The four locations include Prince Sultan Air Base, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia; Ali Al Salem AB, Kuwait; Al Jaber AB, Kuwait; and Al Dhafra AB, United Arab Emirates. Each location has a wide variety of mobility and commercial generators up to and including 1000KW. The support equates to "backfilling" 140 blue-suiter rotations and reduces the OPSTEMPO requirements on active duty AF power production specialists.
Following Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003, US forces began to pull out of Prince Sultan Air Base. On April 28 the CAOC was shifted from PSAB to Al-Udeid in Qatar. On April 29, Sec. Donald Rumsfeld announced that US forces would begin pulling out of Saudi Arabia and that forces in the country would be diverted to other locations. Rear Admiral David Nichols, the deputy commander of the air operation centre stated that much of the assets associated with the 363rd AEW would be relocated by the end of the Summer 2003.
U.S. officials transferred control of portions of Prince Sultan Air Base to Saudi officials at a ceremony on Aug. 26, 2003. The ceremony also marked the inactivation of the 363rd Air Expeditionary Wing. The base was home to about 60,000 coalition forces during the past seven years. At the height of OIF, there were more than 5,000 troops and about 200 coalition aircraft based here.
Join the GlobalSecurity.org mailing list