UNITED24 - Make a charitable donation in support of Ukraine!


Royal Saudi Air Defense Forces

A paradigm shift occurred with the SAAF with the creation of the Royal Saudi Air Defense Forces (RSADF) and the making of the RSADF as a separate and equivalent service, equal to the Land Forces, Air Forces, and Naval Forces. The RSADF is no longer subordinate to the Royal Saudi Land Forces (RSLF). The impetus behind this shift is the ever-changing threat. The concern by the Kingdom of proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and their mechanism of delivery, resulted in the early understanding by the SAAF of the requirement to transform, and thus the creation of the RSADF.

Saudi air defense units were separated from the army in the mid-1980s to form a fourth service branch responsible for territorial air defense. The new fourth command was initially entrusted to Amir Khalid ibn Sultan Al Saud, son of the minister of defense and aviation. The Saudi Air Defense Force, a separate service since 1984, is similarly organized as the other services with five major branches: G1, G2, G3, G4, and G5. The RSADF shared its headquarters with the RSLF in the RSLF headquarters. However, a modern headquarters facility in Riyadh was completed and occupied sometime in 2004.

The air defense forces, with an estimated 4,000 personnel in 1992, had as their primary responsibility the operation of thirty-three SAM batteries. Of these, sixteen batteries were equipped with 128 I-Hawk SAMs with a forty-kilometer range, which were emplaced around Riyadh, Ras Tanura, Dhahran, Jiddah, and key air bases at Khamis Mushayt, Hafar al Batin, and Tabuk, as well as the approaches to strategic oil facilities of the Eastern Province.

The remaining seventeen batteries, forming a second line of air defense, were equipped with sixty-eight Shahine SAM fire units with a range of sixteen kilometers. These SAMs were a version of the French Crotale missile system mounted on AMX-30SA chassis. This mobile missile defense guarded the Saudi oil fields and other vital installations. An additional seventy-three Shahine fire units were employed as static defense.

Saudi Arabia Air Defense Map - Patriot 2020Both the IHawk and Shahine systems were linked to AWACS and to the Peace Shield command and control system. In addition to the missile defense, the air defense forces were equipped with Vulcan 20mm self-propelled guns and 30mm guns mounted on AMX-30SA chassis.

The Royal Saudi Air Defense Forces (RSADF) has the responsibility for the air defense of the Kingdom. To successfully achieve this protection, the RSADF has purchased Short Range Air Defense Systems (SHORAD) and high to medium range air defense (HIMAD) missile systems. It is these weapon systems, facilities that support and train their forces, and the changing threat within the region that the Saudi Arabian government will examine over the next decade to determine the direction it will take.

The RSADF has several vital locations and facilities that are instrumental in providing training and education for all their soldiers and officers that successfully make it into the ranks of Royal Saudi Air Defense Forces. The headquarters, located in Riyadh, provides the operational and logistical planning and coordination support for the six group commands that are similarly aligned with the defense sectors that are in the Kingdom. It is also the location of the Staff College that trains field grade officers in staff operations. Jeddah is the home of the Air Defense Forces Institute (ADFI), the Maintenance and Technical Support Depot, and the location for all RSADF initial entrance and weapon systems training. It is at the ADFI that the officer basic course and the officer advance course are taught to the company grade officers. The ADFI is also the location of the RSADF military college. The college is new and in its second year of existence at the ADFI. Currently, the college is designed as a three-year program providing graduates with a bachelorís degree in military studies. The goal of the college is to emulate other prestigious military academies such as the United States Military Academy.

Saudi Arabia Air Defense Map - 2019The Maintenance and Technical Support Depot is a superb facility that supports modernization initiatives within the RSADF. The Depot is divided into three critical sites: Theater Readiness Missile Facility; System Integration and Check-Out Facility; Technical Support Facility. The Maintenance and Technical Support Depot is a multi-million dollar HIMAD missile inspection facility that enables the RSADF to inspect missiles in the Kingdom, precluding the requirement to send them back to the US. This is a tremendous savings of millions of dollars to the RSADF. The TRMF has been designed as an Ammunition Storage Point for storage of the missile and other ammunition that supports the RSADF. The System Integration and Check-Out facility conducts all of the weapon system integration, system checks and evaluations, and upgrades prior to standing up an air defense battalion. Finally, command, control, and communications are driving the Technical Support facility. Their goal is the integration of all the RSADF air defense weapon systems under one command and information center (CIC).

Breaking several cultural barriers is also vital to the understanding of the cultural differences that exist. The air defense advisors can bridge this gap and did so in 2002 with the first inductions of RSADF soldiers into the Order of Saint Barbara, the air defense and artillery fraternal organization. This brought an artillery tradition of Christian origin to an Islamic military, which was extremely well received. The understanding and brotherhood that was developed helped improve the understanding of service-oriented traditions and the role they play in moral and unit esprit de corps.

The air defense advisor always plays a vital role in ensuring that the security cooperation program is correctly implemented and executed. A prime example is the monumental effort by several key members of the air defense branch in planning, coordinating, and executing the closure of a foreign military sales case relating to the Stinger missile weapon system. Advisors had to coordinate between the RSADF, RSNF, the 2nd Group, and Staff agencies in the RSADF Headquarters and Minister of Defense and Aviation, and then plan and execute the destruction of the Stinger missile system. The importance of this effort took on a more ominous role after September 11, 2001 in that it ensured, with RSADF assistance, that none of these highly lethal Stinger missiles made it into the hands of terrorists. This cooperation is indicative of the role advisors in USMTM play and the value that the Saudi Armed Forces place on the mission advisors conduct.

Training of the RSADF officer corps is extremely valued by the RSADF headquarters. Most officers speak multiple languages, as most are educated in the west. After September 11, 2001, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia had scaled back the number of officers sent to the United States for advanced training. The efforts by the advisors to alleviate preconceived beliefs by the RSADF that officers would be at risk resulted in a resumption in school attendance in the U.S. Current SAAF organization reflects the RSADF as a separate service. Having air defense subordinate to the Army has worked well for the military of the United States. However, this is not the case for Saudi Arabia. Understanding the Saudi culture and the mindset of the RSADF provides focus to the new paradigm.

The RSADF is quickly becoming a premier service. The potential regional hostilities and concerns of proliferation of weapons of mass destruction are influencing the resourcing and direction the RSADF is taking. The lethality of a single ballistic missile can cause tremendous death and destruction when it is configured with a weapon of mass destruction warhead. The other services will continue to focus on the conventional threat while the RSADF must consider the ominous technological changes occurring now and in the future. The pace of change for the RSADF is much quicker than the other services, making it more difficult on the leadership within the RSADF and their decision making process. It is the air defense advisorís role to improve efficiency and the security cooperation provided to the RSADF, which would only be enhanced by a more robust advisory team.

Join the GlobalSecurity.org mailing list

Page last modified: 02-02-2020 19:00:47 ZULU