"Why Saudi Arabia Needs The AWACS"
SUBJECT AREA General
"WHY SAUDI ARABIA NEEDS THE AWACS"
SULIMAN E. AL HASSOON, MAJ
ROYAL SAUDI AIR FORCE
COMMAND AND STAFF COLLEGE
"WHY SAUDI ARABIA NEEDS THE AWACS"
First of all, what is the AWACS? The AWACS or better
known as the E-3A is a modified Boeing 707-320B aircraft
with added surveillance radar, computer and communication
equipment. It provides an overall air surveillance
capability with command control, a communication function,
and can detect and track aircraft at high and low altitude,
on both land and water. The E-3A airborne warning and
control system (AWACS) provides real time and long range
target detection, identification, and tracking. The E-3A
normally operates at an altitude of 29,000 feet and a cruise
speed of 0.72 MACH. The "AWACS" can fly up to 40,000 feet
altitude but its radar elevation angle is optimized for
operations at 29,000 feet. It can fly for approximately 11
hours without inflight refueling, and up to 22 hours with
refueling and an augmented crew. The normal crew of 17
consists of 4 flight crew members and 13 mission crew
members. This crew can be augmented as necessary.
At the beginning of 1980 Saudi Arabia felt in great
necessity to obtain the AWACS. For a very valuable reason
that the country found itself surrounded by either a
communist or a pro-Soviet alliance. In 1967 South Yemen
gained their independence from England and became a
pro-Soviet satellite and the government became a communist
party. In 1978 a coup in Afghanistan led to the Soviet
invasion of Afghanistan in 1979. In the same year the Shah
of Iran was overthrown by Fundamentalists. On the other
hand, Ethiopia which is across the Red Sea from Saudi Arabia
is a pro-Soviet and Communist regime. Secretary Buckley
went to the Congress in 1981; he said "We confront every
dangerous situation in the Persian Gulf today. The Soviet
invasion of Afghanistan, the Iranian revolution, the
Iraq-Iran War, and an increased Soviet influence in Ethiopia
and South Yemen are all indicative of the growing threat to
U.S. and Western interests that is, posed by the Soviet Union
and its proxies. We are convinced that providing Saudi
Arabia with such air equipment will not only help it meet
its own legitimate needs but will strengthen our own posture
in the region and make it clear to both local government and
to the Soviet leadership that the United States is committed
to assist in preserving security and stability in Southwest
Asia. "Department of State Bulletin 81-52",and that was
assured by Senator Barry Goldwater, Repubican of Arizona, in
an inverview in U.S. News and World Report. He replied "The
danger is obvious all around the Saudi Arabian borders.
Iran has on many occasions denounced Saudi Arabia and its
government. There is a Marxist, Soviet-backed force only a
short distance away, across the Red Sea in Ethiopia. South
Yemen is being armed with Russian equipment--missiles,
armored cars and tanks, and aircraft. What do these
governments intend to do with those weapons? They are not
interested in North Yemen. They are interested in
threatening Saudi Arabia.
So the AWACS has three implications: (A) political,
(B) economic, and (C) regional defense.
(A) Political: United States and Saudi Arabia
relations remain close. The Saudis have consulted closely
with the United States on a number of Middle East peace
issues and continue to do so in the present. They have
worked closely with the United States in efforts to
institute the cease fire in Lebanon and to encourage
stability. Their influence is enhanced by continuing heavy
financial support of the Lebanese Government and to Jordan.
Also they have been backing Egypt politically and
financially so the AWACS sale brought more political views
between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia.
(B) Economic. Saudi Arabia had estimated oil reserve
at the end of 1985, 173 billion barrels enough to last
almost 50 years. Saudi Arabia is second only to the Soviet
Union in oil production and leads the rest of the world in
oil reserves. It exports more than three times as much oil
as its closest exporting rival, the Soviet Union. By
comparison, the United States which ranks third in oil
production and eighth in reserves is the top oil consuming
country. Twenty-five percent of U.S. oil imports come from
Saudi Arabia. Besides the oil trading with U.S. comes after
oil. At present Saudi Arabia is the ninth largest world
market for U.S. export. In 1984/1985, it was estimated at
6.5 billion in goods and another 1 billion in services. At
present there are 480 U.S. firms doing business in Saudi
Arabia, with over 40,000 Americans working there. By
obtaining the AWACS Saudi Arabia will feel secure that its
oil export to the West and importing the West goods are
protecting in a very advanced technology surveillance. The
U.S. also feels it necessary to assure a safe passage for
trading with Saudi Arabia (97th Congress sessions).
(C) Regional Defense: U.S. plans to protect vital
western interests in the Near East/Southwest Asia region
have changed dramatically in recent years. Saudi Arabia by
obtaining the AWACS will increase security cooperation with
U.S. in this critical region--a region which currently is
subject to multiple strains.
A perception by western-oriented nations in the region
of encirclement by the Soviet Union and its allies due to
increased Soviet military capability and a Soviet
willingness to use military force to achieve its goals as
demonstrated by its occupation of Afghanistan. The Reagan
administration places its greatest emphasis to gain a
strategic consensus with key western-oriented states in a
region (Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, The Sudan, Jordan,
Somalia, Oman) that the major threat to their security is
the Soviet Union. A staff from U.S. Congress visited in
recent years those countries "Congress Staff Report No.
97th" and confirmed that there is a basis for developing a
consensus on the Soviet threat.
A credible capability to project U.S. military power
into the region is required if the strategic consensus is to
be implemented. This has required dramatic changes in U.S.
defense policy which in precious decades relied on the
British and later Iran to assume principle defense
responsibilities in the Persian Gulf region. Because of
recent Soviet gains, friendly states in the region now feel
that without credible U.S. power projection capabilities
they will be at the mercy of Soviet opportunism. Yet
development of that U.S. capability has encountered several
problems. For example, the United States has gained only
limited access to military facilities in Oman, Samalia,
Kenya and Egypt. In time of war if the United States were
to attempt to defend Iran from Soviet attack, a U.S. Rapid
Deployment Force could not hope to maintain defensive
positions in Iran if the U.S. lost control of the skies over
the Zagros mountains. Since U.S. aircraft carriers would be
too vulnerable in the narrow Persian Gulf, the U.S. would
depend heaviy on Saudi Air Bases with their AWACS for
tactical air support of the deployed ground forces.
Compatible Saudi military equipment and facilities would
thus be extremely useful in minimizing the amount of support
equipment that would accompany the air force units deploying
to Saudi bases. The U.S. Indian Ocean fleet "Task Force 70"
is stretched to its limits by logistics problems. Personnel
fatigue and naval requirements elsewhere in the world, also
the Rapid Deployment Force has serious air and sea lift
problems that require time, money, and local equipment
prepositioning to solve. The Reagan administration hopes
that the AWACS in Saudi Arabia can help to solve some of
these problems and that the U.S. will be in a stronger
position. In addition, the Saudis understand that they
cannot stand alone against the various threats they
perceive. Saudis estimate that the kingdom, with all that
buying, could defend itself against the Soviet Union for 2
or 3 days at the most. They crave a close military
relationship with the United States.
President Reagan wrote: "I am convinced that providing
the AWACS to Saudi Arabia will improve the security of our
friends, strengthen our own posture in the region and make
it clear both to local governments and to the Soviet
leadership that the United States is determined to assist in
preserving security and stability in Southwest Asia."
"Department of the States in October 1981."
In this environment, Saudi Arabia finds itself threatened
from a variety of sources. These threats are worsened by
the Saudi recognition of its own limited military capability
to defend its vast and coveted petroleum resources. As an
anti-Communist country and as the largest oil producer in
the Gulf, Saudi Arabia is vulnerable to military threats
arising out of the Iran-Iraq conflict, from radical states
in the area and especially from the Soviet Union or Soviet
inspired direct and indirect military action. In response
to these threats the strong air defense system with advanced
surveillance such as AWACS makes a major contribution to
Saudi security and to the U.S. vital regional security
objectives. Furthermore, the United States will achieve
regional objectives as follows:
- Continuation of stable and secure access to regional
- Prevention of the spread of Soviet influence.
- Security of friendly country in the region.
- Demonstration of U.S. concerns and resolve in
supporting overall regional security.
By these arguments, it is hoped that the Saudi requirement
for the AWACS aircraft has been fully justified.
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