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Elf One

Historically, Saudi relations with Yemen had been problematic. Yemen was two separate countries, the Yemen Arab Republic, YAR, or North Yemen and the People's Democratic Republic of Yemen, PDRY, or South Yemen from 1962 until unification in 1990. After Britain granted independence to its former colony of Aden and the adjoining protectorate of South Arabia in late 1967, a self-proclaimed Marxist government gained control of the entire area. Until 1976, when diplomatic relations with the PDRY were finally established, Saudi Arabia actively supported efforts to overthrow the regime in Aden; Saudi hostility did not abate after 1976 but assumed more discreet forms, including covert aid to dissident factions within the ruling Yemeni Socialist Party (YSP).

In March 1979 two E-3s temporarily operating at Kadena Air Base, Japan, were deployed to Saudi Arabia in light of an on-going border dispute between North and South Yemen. The 964th Airborne Air Control Squadron, a unit of the 552d Air Control Wing, undertook the E-3's first real-world operational deployment to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. During this March-April 1979 operation, the squadron crews flew the first E-3's to circumnavigate the globe. They visited Alaska, Hawaii, Japan, Korea, the Philippines, Saudi Arabia and the Azores.

In the fall of 1980 Iran and Iraq declared war, causing international concern. Crews and aircraft from the 552nd Airborne Warning and Control Wing were deployed to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, to augment the Royal Saudi Air Force's radar coverage of Saudi airspace. In September 1980 four E-3s and almost 200 wing members again deployed to Saudi Arabia in an operation called Elf One which continued for over 8 years. They provided round-the-clock airborne radar coverage, and enhanced Saudi air defences during the Iran/Iraq war. Initially under USAFE control, this Elf-One contingent came under USCENTAF after its formation on 1 Jan 1983. The 963rd Airborne Air Control Squadron provided crew members and support personnel on 30-day temporary duty assignments to support the effort. On 15 April 1989 the last Elf-One E-3s and KC-135s left Saudi Arabia: the small element that remained later became the Elf-One Control Team (EOCT). In all, Elf-One aircraft had flown more than 6,000 sorties and 87,000 hours to protect the airspace of neutral countries during the Iran-Iraq War.

The 1979 Iranian revolution and the subsequent seizure by fundamentalist Muslim guerrillas of the Grand Mosque in Mecca jolted the Saudi government, which afterward placed an increased emphasis on military preparedness. To enhance Saudi security, in 1981 the US agreed to sell several Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS) aircraft to the Saudis, a move that engendered heavy opposition from Israel and its American friends who feared an upset in the Middle East military balance.

In the spring of 1989, Saudi Elf-One Operations ended with the termination of hostilities in the Iran/Iraq war.

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Page last modified: 05-07-2011 14:05:24 ZULU