Royal Saudi Land Forces Facilities
The Engineer Assistance Agreement with the Ministry of Defense and Aviation in 1965 further committed the US Army Corps of Engineers, initially to design and construct three brigade-size military cantonments to house elements of the Saudi Arabian Army. The division had also laid the basic groundwork for the Saudi Arabia Mobility Program (SAMP) to procure, maintain, and support a fleet of modern military vehicles. More generally, the division provided technical services as requested by Saudi governmental ministries, primarily in engineering and construction.
From the earliest discussions in 1964, the Saudis saw cantonments for the Saudi Arabian Army as the cornerstone of the modernization of their armed forces. The Saudi minister of Defense and Aviation, Prince Sultan, anticipated three cantonments: in the southwest near Yemen; in the northwest near Jordan; and in the north near Iraq. Given the unrest throughout the entire region and the menacing foreign policy of Nasser’s Egypt, he wanted construction to start on two of the cantonments within a year after serious discussions began.
By March 1969, the working estimate for Khamis Mushayt had risen to $73.5 million and estimates for all three cantonments had increased from $102 million (in 1965) to $209.5 million. The Saudi minister of finance expressed concern. Prince Sultan, facing pressure from his fellow minister, his uncle, began to look for ways to spread the costs over a longer period. He also decided to reduce the cantonment at Tabuk to a facility for only one brigade.
From 1964 to 1974, the Saudi Arabian government spent over $160 million to construct the King Faisal Military Cantonment at Khamis Mushayt and the King Abdulaziz Military Cantonment at Tabuk. From the mid-1970s to the mid-1980s, the Ministry of Defense and Aviation spent an additional billion dollars to expand the facilities at both cantonments.
Family housing for servicemen constituted the largest single category of facilities in the Corps of Engineers’ support for the Saudi Arabian military, accounting for over 25 percent of the total spending. The Corps estimated the cost of housing additions at Khamis Mushayt and Tabuk at $250 million for each location.
The modernization program for the Saudi Arabian armed forces included the command elements as well as combat units. The Saudi Arabian government commissioned the Corps of Engineers to design and construct headquarters complexes for the Ministry of Defense and Aviation, the Royal Saudi Air Force, the Royal Saudi Naval Forces, and the Saudi Arabian National Guard.
On 12 April 1988, the Saudi Ministry of Defense and Aviation hosted a quiet ceremony and luncheon marking the formal end of the role that the Corps had played in the kingdom since the signing of the Engineer Assistance Agreement in 1965. In 1951, and again in 1963, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers went to Saudi Arabia at the invitation of that nation’s government. The Corps, upon completing its work in the 1980s, scaled down its operations and withdrew as it had in the early 1960s. The concluding ceremony that the Saudis hosted in April 1988 took place in an atmosphere of celebration, satisfaction, and mutual respect. No engineer officers remained in the kingdom.
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