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Royal Saudi Land Forces History

In 1902, not long ago from a historical standpoint, a young Arab prince, who had been raised in exile in Kuwait, led a band of about fifty warriors on a desperate raid to regain control of his family’s ancestral fort in Riyadh. The attack was successful and the youthful victor, Abd al Aziz bin Abd ar Rahman Al Saud, launched other campaigns.

The beginning of the Land Forces was when King Abdulaziz Bin Abdulrahman Aal Saud formed a small, poorly equipped army of sixty men - the equivalent of a contemporary infantry platoon - and took them from Kuwait to Riyadh. With forty of them he was able to recover Riyadh after a battle immortalized in history with golden ink on the morning of Saturday 4/10/1319 AH (1902). This army was later organized, and its number was increased to form combatant companies composed of the Army of Jihad (men from urban areas) and the Army of Ikhwan (men from desert areas). This was the beginning of the Saudi Arabian Army.

By the end of the unification phase, King Abdulaziz embarked on reorganizing the military garrisons that pre-existed in the Hijaz. Thus, the Yanbu detachment was formed on 23/10/1344 AH and consisted of artillery and machine guns. In addition, The Jeddah garrison was formed on 20/4/1345 AH. In 1348 AH (1929) HM the King envisioned that the Saudi army had to keep up with modern armies in organization and armament. Therefore, he ordered the formation of the first nucleus of the statutory Saudi army units. The army consisted of three sectors named the regiments of infantry, artillery, and machine guns. (A contemporary regiment is equivalent to a battalion of 659 to 962 personnel). The machine gun sector consisted of four companies (about 112 personnel each) and eight machine guns. Some of these weapons were captured by King Abdulaziz during the battles he fought in his struggle.

This statutory force grew gradually along with the Army of Jihad and the Ikwan until the King founded, in the same year, the Department of Military Affairs to oversee the personnel of the said statutory force. This department was headquartered in Makkah and affiliated with the Finance Agency at the time. After this young army was formed, its units paraded in front of King Abdulaziz in Jeddah in 1349 AH (1930). That was a sign of the modern organization of the Saudi Arabian Army as well as its executive and administrative apparatus, leading later to converting the various units to a statutory army worthy of the status of the young Saudi state.

On Thursday, 21/5/1351 AH (corresponding to 23/9/1932), and after King Abdulaziz's long struggle, he issued a royal decree unifying the regions across the country under the name of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. This date is considered the National Day of the Kingdom. When the number of statutory troops increased and administrative and organizational burdens surpassed the ability of the Department of Military Affairs, it was necessary to form a defense agency to support it in 1353 (1934). It was headquartered in the city of Taif, with Sheikh Abdullah bin Suleiman appointed as its head in addition to his duties as Finance Minister. That was accompanied by restructuring the army units into infantry, artillery, and cavalry. Regiments and brigades were formed and provided with the best weapons at the time, including machine guns and cannons, along with transport and radios. They were distributed throughout the Kingdom according to defense needs. A military school was established in the city of Taif in 1353 AH (1934) to graduate and train the military. However, it was subsequently closed because it was no longer needed.

With the unification of the Kingdom, military tasks became varied. In 1355 AH (1936) the military school in Taif, which became a center for training, was reopened. In 1358 AH the Department of Military Affairs was abolished and replaced by the Presidency of the General Staff of the Army associated with the Defense Agency. This Presidency began to organize the army, standardize staff uniforms, and identify its distinctive emblems. In addition, the first armored division was formed, named the First Armored Division of the Army, and attached to the Royal Guard in Riyadh after the completion of training. After that, the first cavalry contingent and first infantry regiment were formed. Later, the Presidency of the General Staff of the Army was moved to Riyadh following the Defense Agency.

As a result of the drastic expansion and increasing requirements of defense, a royal decree was issued on 11/05/1363 AH (10/11/1943) establishing the Ministry of Defense to replace the Defense Agency. HRH late Prince Mansour ibn Abdulaziz was appointed as the first minister. Then experts were brought in to provide their expertise in various fields of training. Moreover, many employees of the Saudi Arabian Army were sent abroad to Arab and friendly countries for study and training. The first signal and radio school was also established, along with a medical and emergency school. This completed the first step towards the establishment of the Saudi Arabian Army Land Forces.

Due to the death of HRH Prince Mansour ibn Abdulaziz on 25/7/1370 AH 2/5/1951, HRH Prince Mishaal ibn Abdulaziz was appointed to succeed him as Minister of Defense on 6/8/1370 AH (12/5/1951. On 2/3/1373 AH (9/11/1953) was the great event when the Arab and Islamic nation lost the founder of this entity, the great King Abdulaziz. Briefly afterwards, HRH Prince Fahd ibn Saud bin Abdulaziz took over as Defense Minister on 2/6/1376 AH, followed by HRH Prince Mohammad ibn Saud ibn Abdulaziz on 2/6/1380 AH.

By 1960 the entire Saudi Army numbered only about eighteen thousand troops, with another eighteen thousand men serving part- or full-time in the country’s National Guard. Modern development of the Saudi armed forces started when royal decrees were issued on 3/6/1382 AH (31/10/1962) appointing HRH Prince Sultan ibn Abdulaziz Aal Saud as Minister of Defense and Aviation and Inspector General of the Army.

After Faisal returned to power in October 1962, he dramatically increased spending for defense and the Ministry of Defense and Aviation (MODA) launched a series of military construction efforts to strengthen Saudi national security. By the end of 1963, the Saudis had more than fifty projects underway but were dissatisfied with the progress. They wanted help with planning, design, supervision, and inspection of construction—functions they had seen the Corps of Engineers perform on military construction projects.

In 1965 the Saudis requested the U.S. Army to survey the Saudi Arabian Army Ordnance Corps (SAAOC). The U.S. Army Tank-Automotive Command’s review revealed that the Saudi Arabian Army had essentially no mobility and could not deploy its troops anywhere within the kingdom if a crisis developed. To rectify the situation, the Army Materiel Command recommended that the Saudis acquire all-new, compatible equipment; update their facilities; develop a modern maintenance and supply system; and create a technical training school to teach ordnance skills. The Saudis then requested help to devise a program for planning, procurement, maintenance, and logistical support for military vehicles.

The Army Materiel Command, the appropriate agency to support the Saudi need, had no overseas capability or responsibility. Involved in its own reorganization, it declined to take on the responsibility. The U.S. Military Training Mission had a presence in Saudi Arabia but no contracting authority, a necessary element in any program to develop a training and supply system. Only the Corps of Engineers, already deeply engaged through the Mediterranean Division in work for Saudi Arabia, had both a presence in the country and the contracting authority to sustain the operation. With approval from Washington, the division assumed the advisory role in support of the vehicle and ordnance program in March 1966.

The Saudi Army had equipment from several countries. It could neither identify the spare parts it had on hand nor distribute them to the sites where they were needed for maintenance and repair. Moreover, Saudi personnel lacked the training and skills necessary to operate, maintain, or supply the vehicles in their possession. Nearly new trucks, including an immaculatelooking Mercedes truck with only 2,500 kilometers (1,550 miles) on its odometer, sat abandoned in virtual junkyards apparently because the Saudis did not know how to service or maintain them.

In 1967 AD, the Saudi Arabian Army, excluding the national guard, nominally numbered twenty-five thousand and was organized in five brigades. (Its real strength may have been fewer than eighteen thousand.) The forces lacked training facilities and had no modern combat equipment, communications equipment, or logistical transport. Given a hostile and well-armed Egypt that espoused a secular Arab nationalism, civil war in the Yemens, and unrest in the other states of the Arabian Peninsula, modernization of the military represented a pressing need for the Saudi monarchy.

A quick preliminary inventory in 1867 indicated that the Saudis used nearly two hundred fifty different makes and models of automotive equipment. This multiplicity of models defied efficient maintenance, repair, and supply. A large percentage of the fleet was inoperable, with many vehicles beyond economical repair. The Saudis had no records indicating what problems had put vehicles out of service. No manuals existed to guide repair, and no records identified the location of vehicles or their status. According to MODA’s own estimates, it had 3,666 vehicles—tanks, mobile armaments, and commercial and service vehicles—of which 769 (21 percent) were categorized as unserviceable. A more thorough inventory conducted during the first year of the Saudi Arabia Mobility Program revealed that MODA had 8,213 vehicles, more than twice as many as its records indicated.

When the business of the Ministry of Defense and Aviation expanded, HRH Prince Turki bin Abdulaziz Aal Saud was appointed as Deputy Minister of Defense and Aviation and Inspector General on 10/5/1389 AH [1969 AD]. By June 1970, the Saudi Arabian Army’s fleet of vehicles totaled 13,148, including over five hundred vehicles in field units that did not appear in the formal inventory. The maintenance contractor, Commonwealth-Tumpane, had identified over one thousand vehicles that were difficult to support and gathered them at Taif, Al Kharj, Tabuk, and Najran for elimination from the fleet.

Given the small demographic base and the absence of obligatory military service, meeting recruitment goals was difficult and selectivity impossible. Moreover, commanders of Saudi Arabian Army units frequently had little acquaintance with principles of logistics, maintenance, and supply. The Saudi command structure in the 1960s further complicated the effort to make a training program effective, because it largely ignored the experience and training of individuals in making military assignments.

The most far-reaching training program involved reform of the Saudi Arabian Ordnance Corps Center and School at Taif. Through the school, the US contractor trained the personnel for the administrative and technical responsibilities of managing the ordnance system and handling the equipment used by the Saudi Army. The Saudis had established a precursor to the school in 1953, which they moved to Taif in 1963. In 1967, it was integrated it into the training program established under the Saudi Arabia Mobility Program (SAMP), to create the new center and school. Conforming to Saudi expectations, the center handled basic military training for recruits and trained them in technical fields. The school trained ordnance personnel to be technically proficient in supply and maintenance. The program also trained army instructors, administrators, and other personnel in the theory and practice of supply and maintenance activities. By May 1968 the first group of students graduated.

To continue the evolution initiated by HRH Crown Prince Sultan ibn Abdulaziz, Minister of Defense and Aviation and Inspector General, he issued his directives on 27/12/1396 AH [1976 AD] to uphold the first organization modifying the name of the Saudi Arabian Army to the Royal Saudi Land Forces. Additionally, the Presidency of the General Staff of the Army was re-formed to become the General Staff of the Saudi Armed Forces. The Land Forces, based on the available capabilities (manpower, machinery, and equipment) and following the directives of HRH, became a striking force and the mainstay of the armed forces. In 1403 AH [1983 AD] a royal order was issued to appoint HRH Prince Abdulrahman ibn Abdulaziz Aal Saud as Deputy Minister of Defense and Aviation and Inspector General.

Saudi Naval Expansion Program-Communications (SNEP-C) system provided the Royal Saudi Naval Forces with a command and control capability between patrol vessels at sea and three shore-based sites in Saudi Arabia: at the RSNF headquarters in Riyadh, Jubail Naval Base on the Arabian Gulf and the Jeddah Naval Base on the Red Sea. The system provides base-to-base and ship-to-shore communications by voice and teletype. Each of the sites has a transmitter, receiver and operations control element with facilities for HF, VHF and UHF communication.

On 14 June 2000, the Defense Security Cooperation Agency notified Congress of a possible Foreign Military Sale of equipment and services to upgrade the Royal Saudi Naval Forces Command, Control and Communications System. The Government of Saudi Arabia requested a possible sale of U.S. Government and contractor engineering, technical and logistics services in the development and implementation of a comprehensive 10 year program for the upgrade, development, operation and maintenance program, and system additions to the Royal Saudi Naval Forces (RSNF) Command, Control, and Communications (C3) System. The system additions will include, but are not limited to, installation of commercial data link and mobile communications equipment. The estimated cost is $257 million. This proposed sale will contribute to the foreign policy and national security of the United States by helping to improve the security of a friendly country which has been and continues to be an important force for political stability and economic progress in the Middle East.

The RSNF needed the equipment and services in order to modernize and enhance an aging C3 system that was provided during the period of 1974 through 2000. The program, which would provide commercially available equipment, material and services, will significantly enhance interoperability with U.S., NATO and other Saudi military forces operating in the region. The proposed sale of this equipment and support will not affect the basic military balance in the region. The principal contractors will be Science Applications International Corporation of San Diego, California; PE Systems of Alexandria, Virginia; and Booz, Allen, and Hamilton, Incorporated of McLean, Virginia. There were no offset agreements proposed in connection with this potential sale.



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