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Saudi Arabia’s defense posture is robust

Dr. Theodore Karasik

Published: Updated:

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is celebrating National Day at a highly unstable time in the Middle East. Syria is aflame, Iraq seems to be disintegrating, sectarian strife is spreading throughout the region, Yemen faces further turbulence, and Egypt is undergoing significant changes. Many Middle East countries are seen as incubators of current and future threats. Iran still is developing a formidable offensive capability. Tehran too is seen as a protagonist both ideologically and militarily. The Islamic Republic’s arsenal includes the use of small ships or boats, suicide boats, underwater warfare capability, combined with the use of more advanced ballistic and cruise missiles. Non-state actors, specifically terrorist groups, are a perennial threat. On this day, a review of Riyadh’s defense capabilities is warranted. Overall, a ring of instability surrounds the Kingdom.

Under the leadership of King Abdullah al-Saud, the Kingdom is further developing its requirements to protect Saudi Arabia’s territory. The Saudi armed forces consist of the Saudi Arabian National Guard (SANG), the Royal Saudi Land Forces, the Royal Saudi Air Force, the Royal Saudi Air Defense, and the Royal Saudi Navy. There are also paramilitary forces that focus on protecting infrastructure and other critical assets. The total amount of Saudi personnel is in the 100,000s.

The Kingdom’s spending on defense and security is increasing significantly over the past 10 years. Saudi Arabia’s high-tech modern arsenal makes the country one of the most armed defensive countries in the region with most of Riyadh’s military purchases coming from the United States, France, and the United Kingdom. Overall, for the past five years, the Kingdom’s defense imports increased significantly. U.S. and British companies dominated the imports during this time frame.

Regional threats

Major contracts and further discussions about defense purchases are expected to further jump due to the regional threat environment. Specifically, the United States is boosting Saudi Arabia’s national defense capabilities in the areas of aerospace and defense and security. Lockheed Martin, for instance, signed a partnership with the King Abdulaziz City for Science and Technology (KACST). The deal is important because the idea is to enhance job creation for Saudi youth and transferring of technology and scientific expertise to the Kingdom as well as help Saudi Arabia builds its aerospace and commercial sectors as part of offset policy. Such deals are in line with Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2020 to improve national defense capabilities.

On this National Day, Riyadh is in a pro-active mood to protect major assets in a turbulent neighborhood.

Dr. Theodore Karasik

Saudi Arabia's estimated $45 billion yearly military outlay represents the region's largest budget specifically for airpower capabilities in support of Kingdom’s protection. The ¬potential acquisition of 84 new ¬F-15Es and upgrades for 72 existing aircraft, plus 190 new helicopters, including 72 ¬UH-60M Black Hawks, 70 ¬AH-64D Apaches, 36 AH-6i Phoenix ¬helicopters and 12 MD ¬Helicopters MD-530Fs is still in the works. The Kingdom still seeks 48 Eurofighter Typhoons from a 72-aircraft deal brokered via the UK government. There is also a requirement to replace 30 ageing Lockheed C-130Hs. The candidates include the C-130J, the Airbus Military A400M and the Boeing C-17. Each are hoping for at least a share of the replacement order, with the as well as the Alenia Aermacchi C-27J and Airbus Military C-295 as low-end alternatives.

Air defense is also a major necessity to protect the Kingdom from ballistic and cruise missile threats. Dozens of Patriot PAC-3s are already deployed in Saudi Arabia. In addition, the Kingdom is also requesting to buy from the United States technical services and re-certify up to 300 Patriot PAC-2 GEMs (MIM-104D Guidance Enhanced Missiles). Riyadh also wants to modernize existing equipment, receive spare and repair parts, and support equipment. There is also discussion about procuring more PAC-3 batteries and the AEGIS system. Clearly, Saudi Arabia is continuing to build a protective defense umbrella over its territory.

Indigenous defense industry

Importantly, Saudi Arabia’s indigenous defense industry is beginning to emerge. The Abdullah al-Faris Company for Heavy Industries, based in Dammam, manufactures the al-Fahd Infantry Fighting Vehicle and the Al-Faris 8-200 Armored Personnel Carrier. The company also produces the Ashibl 1 and Ashibl 2 armored vehicles for the Royal Saudi Land Forces and the Kingdom’s exclusive special operations units. In the future, the growth of other areas of home-grown military production is important for the Kingdom in order to create knowledge centers, self-sufficiency, and relying less on foreign sales.

Border security is a key area of further defensive capability. Both the southern and northern borders of the Kingdom require 24/7 monitoring. Tough border security measures are on the lookout for drug smugglers and insurgents. Besides fences and CCTV, there are also the use of UAVs and an increase in border controls as well as listening devices. The Saudis view the region surrounding them in political upheaval and are in the middle of fortifying their homeland. Riyadh is taking these precautions to protect the kingdom from outside influences, both human and contraband.

There is also a vigorous network of Saudi defense for the Kingdom that protects infrastructure, hydrocarbon facilities and pipelines, as well as littoral waters from an assortment of threats. The Ministry of Interior provides a bulk of the land-based solutions and the Royal Saudi Navy conducts sea-based protection. Of course, protection of oil installations is critical and special petroleum police units perform an admirable job after suffering setbacks in the early 2000s. Triple force protection and increasing intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance are more robust. The Royal Saudi Navy, along with the Saudi Coast Guard, for their parts, is protecting the waters around the Kingdom including seaport security. Their activities help prevent contraband shipments as well as any potential armed attacks on shipping. In the future, the Royal Saudi Navy will procure faster, leaner littoral combat ships.

Finally, Saudi Arabia is making great strides in cyber security. KSA has made investments in its national cyber security and has an operational CERT. Saudi Arabia is forecast to invest $1.4 trillion in security and safety systems over the next 10 years. The Kingdom plans to spend over $33bn on cyber security in the period 2007-2018. For the newest aircraft additions to the Kingdom’s military, the Saudis are seeking a contractor for building their computer network defense capabilities to ensure full and protected support of the F-15s and other aircraft. The Saudis have announced their intention to build a new Secure Communications Facility, and a Cyber Security Operations Center/Network Operations and Security Center. These initiatives are spearheaded by the National Center for Electronic Security (NCES).

Overall, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is addressing the emerging threat environment across a broad spectrum. More work needs to be done, and advanced technological solutions are being offered to Saudi Arabia to protect the Kingdom’s homeland from state and not-state actors who’s intent is to ruin Riyadh’s plans for current and future economic plans. On this National Day, Riyadh is in a pro-active mood to protect major assets in a turbulent neighborhood.

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Dr. Theodore Karasik is the Director of Research and Consultancy at the Institute for Near East and Gulf Military Analysis (INEGMA) in Dubai, UAE. He is also a Lecturer at University of Wollongong Dubai. Dr. Karasik received his Ph.D in History from the University of California Los Angles.

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