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Royal Saudi Naval Forces (RSNF) History

After the British announcement that it was withdrawing from East of Suez, the Saudis expanded their minuscule naval force by the acquisition of a few coastal patrol boats and hovercraft from Great Britain.

The 1959 Saudi budget provided no money for the navy, and in fact no progress whatsoever had been made towards the establishment of a Saudi Navy, although Lieutenant General Albert P. Clark, USAF, [Commander of USMTM, Saudi Arabia, until 1959] finally came around to the position that Saudi Arabia should postpone consideration of a navy. The Saudis suggested that part of the MAP funds originally earmarked for the Royal Saudi Air Force Academy in Riyadh ($8 to $10 million) be used instead to finance the purchase of the two 95-foot patrol vessels which, under the April 2, 1957 Agreement, were to have been bought for the new Saudi Navy by the Saudi themselves.

By not acquiring offensive naval vessels the Saudis were tacitly acceding to a Persian-imposed stability in the Gulf as a replacement for that which had been supplied by the departing British. The 1969 contract for three Jaguar fast attack torpedo boats with West Germany again expanded the naval capability only slightly during a period when the littoral states were all seeking workable post-British Persian Gulf policies.

In 1968, the US Government agreed to undertake a naval survey in response to the Saudi Government's expressed desire to plan for expansion of its Navy and related facilities. End strength in approximately 10 years was to be 650 enlisted, 84 officers. Anticipted end strength in 10 years was to be surface units in Red Sea: 3 torpedo boats, 1 gunboat (flagship), two coastal minesweepers. Same for Gulf.

In 1970, at the request of the Saudi Arabian Government, a DOD review team headed by Major General O.A.Leahy evaluated Saudi Arabias defense plans and programs. Some of the important recommendations of the study were that the Saudi navy and air force be placed on an equal level with the army.

The Saudi Navy was even smaller than the Air Force, with only about one thousand men and a dozen vessels in the early 1970s. The navy had only a few obsolete patrol boats, landing craft, and utility boats. The Iranian seizure of Abu Musa and the two Tumbs in November 1971, provided a new impetus for the development of Saudi military capabilitied. Although its public reaction was mild, Saudi Arabia contracted for a major expansion of its naval forces only three months after the seizure. The Saudi Naval Expansion Program (SNEP) contract agreed to provide thirteen small surface to surface missile equipped ships, a minesweeping force, assorted smaller craft, new shore installations and extensive training.

The Leahy study was the basis for a memorandum of understanding signed in 1972 whereby the United States agreed to provide Saudi Arabia with technical and advisory assistance to modernize and expand its navy. Plans for the navy were accepted by the Saudi Arabians in March 1974, and since then the United States worked with the Saudi Government to implement these plans.

The development of the Royal Saudi Naval Forces as a guardian force in the Arabian Gulf and Red Sea dates from January 1972 [not 1974, as widely reported] with the initiation of the Saudi Naval Expansion Program (SNEP) with the assistance of the United States. The naval expansion program formally began in January 1972, when Saudi Arabia and the United States signed a general memorandum of understanding establishing the concepts that guided the development of effective naval operations to protect Saudi Arabias coastlines. In May, the U.S. secretary of defense designated the U.S. Department of the Navy as the SNEP program manager. The Navy would advise the Saudis concerning weaponry and equipment.

On 16 January 1972, the U.S. and Saudi Arabian governments signed a memorandum of understanding that initiated the Saudi Naval Expansion Program (SNEP). Subsequently, the October 1973 war between Egypt and Israel, the resulting oil embargo, the quadrupling of oil prices, and the growing threat of Soviet power in the waters around the Arabian Peninsula intensified the Saudi desire to expand its own naval facilities. The kingdoms entire navy had only about a thousand men in 1972, and it had very limited equipment: one 100-ton coastal patrol boat; two 170-ton torpedo boats; and an assortment of about a dozen other small patrol boats, hovercraft, landing craft, and speed boats. The Saudis wanted to develop a fleet to patrol the countrys two coasts and to defend the shipping and supply lines in the region.

The basic Saudi motivation in wishing to modernize its limited defense forces was simple: with territory approximately as large as the United States east of the Mississippi, with resources valued at about $1.5 trillion at current prices, and with limited military capability, Saudi leaders clearly realized that they had much to protect and little to protect it with. They were strongly opposed to and deeply concerned about possible future intrusion of radical influences, already present to the north and south of them in the gulf and the peninsula.

The US undertook in 1972 a program to build a small modern coastal force for the Saudi Navy. By 1976, that navy was almost nonexistent, with a few patrol boats stationed at Dhahran. This program called for the construction of a naval headquarters at Riyadh and naval facilities at Jidda, on the Red Sea, and at Jubail, on the Persian Gulf. These onshore and offshore facilities ship docking and repair facilities ; breakwaters ; housing, training, maintenance, and administrative buildings ; desahnization plants; schools; messhalls; and so on would be comparatively expensive, especially at Jubail, which was little more than an area of desert coastline.

To fulfill the 1972 agreement, the US Corps of Engineers undertook to design and construct deepwater naval ports at Jiddah on the Red Sea and at Jubayl on the Arabian Gulf. The program included all the off-shore and on-shore facilities at both locations to support naval operations. Early estimates of the programs costs ranged around $350 million. Even though the Saudis anticipated a limited, coastal fleet, the scope of work expanded rapidly: By October 1974, the divisions new estimate for SNEP surpassed $1 billion.

For the next two years, a joint study team from the U.S. Navy and the RSNF designed a modernization plan through which the navy would acquire a score of American vesselsranging from guided-missile patrol boats to coastal minesweepers and smaller craftand the ordnance to make them an effective military force for coastal defense. In the same period, the division worked with Parsons, Basil Inc. of Athens, Greece, to prepare a master plan for the first phase of the SNEP construction program. In November 1973, RSNF leaders approved the master plan the designers had prepared.

In April 1974, after delays caused by the Yom Kippur War of the previous October, the American and Saudi governments signed a detailed protocol that specified training of key Saudi personnel, design and construction of two major naval bases at Jubayl and Jiddah, creation of a naval academy, and expansion of smaller facilities. The protocol also called upon the Corps of Engineers to build and equip an RSNF headquarters in Riyadh. Early estimates set the cost for the two ports and the headquarters complex at approximately $350 million over three to four years.

By 1977 Saudi Arabia was expanding its naval capabilities. Together with Hughes Aircraft and Holmes and Narver, Bendix Field Engineering Corporation [BFEC] formed a joint venture company (HBH) for the express purpose of pursuing the opportunity to provide operations, maintenance and training services in support of a newly purchased fleet of ships.

The revolution in February 1979 crippled the Iranian Navy, both as a regional naval power and as a coastal defense force. Prospects were dim that the navies of othce Gulf states - alone or in concert could ensure the security of the Gulf and the free flow of its oil.

The Saudi Navy could not absorb large amounts of modern, technically complex equipment, however. The Saudi Navy had four small patrol boats which had only limited capacity for shore patrols, and it must compete with the other armed services for the tiny pool of trainable manpower in the country. There were few trained officers or experienced NCOs around whom the Saudis can build an efficient force.

Nevertheless the Saudis developed an ambitious plan to expand the Navy to two flotillas one in the Red Sea and one in the Persian Gulf - and to at least quadruple its force of patrol boats by 1984. The Navy planned to build three new facilities a headquarters in Riyadh, a base in Jiddah on the Red Sea, and a base at Jubail on the Gulf. US firms were currently building l3 patrol boats to be armed with Harpoon missiles and delivered to the Saudis by l984.

In May 1979, it was announced that HBH had been awarded the Saudi Naval Expansion Program (SNEP) contract at a total value of $671 million. The majority of the contract work was provided at four locations within Saudi Arabia and a large support operations at Little Creek, Virginia. This program, in conjunction with the Saudi Ordnance Corps Assistance Program (SOCAP), gave BFEC a large presence in this emerging country.

In the early days of the Saudi Naval Expansion Program (SNEP), for example, Saudis were not accustomed to dealing with professional women in the workplace. Business required women to travel to Saudi Arabia, which was unacceptable to the Saudis. Not sending them was unacceptable to the Americans. Ultimately, the Saudis declared the women, honorary men so that they could travel and work in the Kingdom.

SNEP was designed to meet the personnel demands created by a major RSNF ship acquisition program and by the expansion of shore-based RSNF facilities. The SNEP training was conducted in the United States until approximately 1983, when it will move to newly constructed training facilities in Jubail, Saudi Arabia. The typical SNEP student was a 17-year-old male who has completed the ninth year of school in Saudi Arabia and understood virtually no English. The primary goal of SNEP was journeyman-level proficiency in various electrical, electronic, and engineering fields, although some students were trained in clerical skills.

The training of RSNF personnel was initially characterized by high failure rates and frequent disciplinary problems. The 4 months of preparatory technical training given to incoming RSNF students was not sufficient to fill the gap between their knowledge of science and mathematics when entering the program and the level of knowledge required for success in US Navy Class "A" schools.

The second problem was that the RSNF students did not understand the US educational system and did not have the basic skills required for success within the system. In the Saudi school system, the student is expected to learn verbatim all that he reads or is told. A good lecturer is one that dictates notes. In addition, all tests require a written response; multiple-choice and true-false testing are unknown. As a result, Saudi students had difficulty in locating, abstracting, and summarizing information, and in identifying key points. They did not have the American student's knack of "studying for the test."

Both of these problems were compounded by inadequate language skills; it was difficult for RSNF students to complete reading assignments, write notes, keep up with the pace of the lectures, or even to understand the various dialects encountered in lecture instruction. The RSNF students performed at the fourth grade level on an American normed reading test. Thus, the students were at a clear disadvantage when they were integrated into a classroom with American high school graduates reading at the eleventh grade level.

Enlisted personnel in the Royal Saudi Navy Force (RSNF) began receiving English language and technical training in the United States in 1974 under the Saudi Naval Expansion Program (SNEP). After receiving initial preparatory training, the RSNF students were integrated with U.S. Navy enlisted personnel for their apprentice and journeyman training. . From the beginning, Saudi students experienced high failure rates and frequent disciplinary problems. A fundamental skills training (FST) program was developed and integrated with the Saudi detachment technical training (SDTT) program in 1977.

The fundamental skills training (FST) program for enlisted personnel in the Royal Saudi Naval Forces (RSNF) was 6 months in length and preceded technical training. The goal of FST was to increase the comparability of RSNF and US Navy students in the follow-on 'A' school training, where the two groups are integrated. The FST is a multistranded, objective-based, mastery program that teaches the reading, writing, mathematics, science, and study skills prerequisite to 'A' school training in the electronics, engineering, seamanship, and clerical strands. When a pre-FST Saudi group was compared with a cohort of US Navy enlisted personnel, there was an overemphasis on the learning of technial facts at the expense of basic literacy and learning skills.

The RSNF students did not understand the US educational system and did not have the basic skills required for success within the system. In the Saudi school system, the student is expected to learn verbatim all that he reads or is told. A good lecturer is one that dictates notes. In addition, all tests require a written response; multiple-choice and true-false testing were unknown. As a result, Saudi students had difficulty in locating, abstracting, and summarizing information, and in identifying key points. These problems were compounded by inadequate language skills; it was difficult for RSNF students to complete reading assignments, write notes, keep up with the pace of the lectures, or even to understand the various dialects encountered in lecture instruction. The RSNF students performed at the fourth grade level on an American-normed reading test. While students had the necessary technical fact prerequisites, they could not effectively generalize that information or acquire and integrate new technical information. These results were used as a basis for developing a revised curriculum.

The RSNFs political position within Saudi Arabia also appeared to have been weaker than that of the other services. The Navy had no direct connection to the royal family as did the National Guard through Prince Abdullah or MODA through Prince Sultan. In the competition for the nations limited manpower pool, the Saudi government gave its Army and Air Force priority in selecting high-quality recruits. The Saudi Naval Expansion Program also suffered from the relative inattention given it by the U.S. Navy. The experience of the first half-dozen years of the program, as assessed by one knowledgeable observer, suggested that the Navy lacked the advisory experience of the other U.S. services [and] continued to provide low-quality or mediocre personnel to support SNEP. Further, much of the equipment that the U.S. Navy advised the Saudis to buy developed serious reliability problems. All these factors rendered the Saudi Navys expansion program particularly vulnerable.

In retrospect, the momentum behind the Saudi Naval Expansion Program depended too heavily on the vision of one person, Captain Al Saja. He wanted to bring the RSNF to a high degree of self-sufficiency so that, after the Corps and the U.S. Navy turned over facilities and equipment, it would be able to sustain its operations independently. To achieve that goal, Al Saja ordered the largest changes in the programs scope in areas that improved O&M facilities, training, and spare-parts warehousing. Al Saja also thought of the Saudi Navy and its facilities as the nucleus of a larger Arab naval force. He envisioned cooperation with the other Gulf states.

In the internal political struggles that developed in 1979 and 1980 over allocations within the defense budget, Captain Al Saja lost. With Al Sajas removal, the energy behind SNEP dissipated. Whatever the reasons, the results of a SNEP reorientation became evident during 1980 and 1981. The perceived inadequacies of American equipment and advice led to a shift in emphasis by the Saudi Arabian government, which concluded that several European countries could provide naval vessels, equipment, and training services better suited to Saudi needs. At the turn of the decade, the Saudis entered into serious negotiations with both the Italian and French governments. In October 1980, Saudi Arabia signed an agreement with France to supply naval equipment and advice.

A little-touted but important contribution to the safety of US and allied personnel in the Gulf revolved around the aborted Iranian Revolutionary Guards [IRG] attack on Saudi offshore oil platforms in October 1987. During the summer and early fall, the IRG small-boat forces, which had continued to harass Gulf shipping, were massing in the northern Persian Gulf. After a summer exercise, many of these small boats equipped with automatic weapons and capable of launching rocket attacks remained at IRG bases in the Bandar-e Bushehr and Khark Island areas. Most of the small boats were removed from the water and were inactive for several weeks, until late September and early October. The Royal Saudi Navy turned back an attempted attack on their offshore oil production facilities by as many as 60 of these small craft with no loss of life on either side.

As of 1992, the main combat vessels were four guided-missile frigates and four corvettes, nine missile-armed fast attack craft, and four minesweepers. Between 1980 and 1983, the United States supplied four PCG-1 corvettes (870 tons) each armed with eight Harpoon antiship missiles in addition to six torpedo tubes. Nine fast attack craft, also delivered in the early 1980s, were similarly equipped with Harpoon missiles.

The large arms agreement with Britain in 1988 resulted in a contract for three Sandown-class minesweepers to be delivered between 1991 and 1993. The Sandown Class Single Role Minehunters (SRMHs) are the latest mine countermeasures vessels (MCMVs) in service with the Royal Navy and are designed to complement the Hunt Class mine countermeasures vessels. As a result of experience gained during the build of the Hunt Class MCMVs, Vosper Thornycroft (UK) Ltd was invited to design the SRMH. The result was the Sandown Class Minehunter of which three SRMH variants are in service with the Royal Saudi Naval Forces.

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 will 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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