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Saudi Arabia Table of Contents

Saudi Arabia

Personnel and Conditions of Service

Saudi Arabia, a large country with a small population, has felt the strains of modernization, particularly since the mid1960s . The military, because of the increasing complexity of its arms and equipment, has faced an ever-expanding requirement for technical skills within its ranks. As in many other countries-- developing or developed--competition for technicians has been very high among all sectors of the rapidly modernizing economy, and, for the military, retaining trained specialists has been difficult.

Since the establishment of the kingdom, the Saudis have relied on volunteers to fill the ranks of the services. On several occasions, Saudi officials have indicated that a system of conscription would be introduced. A military draft has, however, never been instituted, presumably because it would be bitterly unpopular, difficult to enforce, and liable to introduce unreliable elements into the military. The intended radical increases in the size of the army and the national guard would seem to necessitate some form of compulsory service. Nevertheless, in June 1991, the minister of defense and aviation declared that no conscription was needed because the rush of volunteers sometimes exceeded the capacity of training centers to absorb them.

The government conducted regular advertising campaigns to inform young Saudi males of the benefits available to them in the armed forces. Recruiting stations existed throughout the country; the government tried to strike a geographic balance by attracting a representative cross section of the population to the enlisted ranks. The officer corps was still predominantly composed of members of the Najd aristocracy. The national guard continued to rely on an old system of tribal levies to fill its ranks, yielding a composition much less representative of the nation as a whole. Guardsmen were recruited mainly from a few of the important camel-rearing tribes of Najd, reputedly the most trustworthy in the kingdom.

The kingdom's population of 16.9 million according to the 1992 census, of whom 12.3 million were Saudi nationals, would be sufficient to maintain the desired strength levels of the regular armed services, assuming the needed education and skill levels were available. (Population statistics for Saudi Arabia, however, were regarded by some Western sources as unreliable.) According to the United States Government, an estimated 159,000 males reached the military age of eighteen each year. The United States Arms Control and Disarmament Agency (ACDA) reported that Saudi Arabia had 5.4 persons in the armed forces per 1,000 of population. This was far lower than the average for the Middle East as a whole (18.3 per 1,000 of population).

The conservative Muslim attitude that strongly discouraged Saudi women from seeking jobs outside the home has eased only slightly. Some women worked in human services and medical occupations, but generally social and religious barriers precluded women from working in positions that would place them in public contact with men. Thus, the military services remained closed to female applicants.

The military enlistment period was three years; cash and other rewards were offered as inducements to reenlist. Pay scales were set at levels higher than that for other government service, and the military have been spared salary cuts that applied to civil servants. Allowances and fringe benefits were generous. The government spent huge sums of money to improve the amenities and comfort for personnel in order to increase the attractiveness of military careers. The military cities included excellent family housing for married officers and NCOs, as well as modern barracks for unmarried personnel. The military cities also offered excellent schools and hospitals as well as convenient shopping centers and recreational facilities.

To attract applicants to the military profession, the Ministry of Defense and Aviation founded its own technical high schools and colleges, which offered subsidized education and granted degrees. Anyone seeking a commission by attending a military academy had to be eighteen years old and a citizen by birth or a naturalized citizen for at least five years. The candidate also had to be of good reputation, having neither been subjected to a sharia penalty nor imprisoned for a felony within five years of the date of his application. Officers were not free to resign. However, they enjoyed extensive benefits, including hardship pay for service in remote areas such as Ash Sharawrah in the southwestern desert. They were entitled to buy land and housing for themselves or as an income-producing investment with generously subsidized loans. Although officers were promoted on a regular basis, they were often frustrated by the lack of opportunity to assume increasing responsibility, owing to the small size of the services.

Because of the advanced technology inherent in the military modernization programs, large numbers of expatriate military and civilian personnel have been required to service and maintain weapons systems and to train Saudi personnel in their use. Although precise data were not available, it was estimated that in the late 1980s, about 5,000 United States civilian and 500 military technicians and trainers and perhaps 5,000 British, French, and other Europeans provided this support. In addition, a considerable number of officers from Muslim countries--including Pakistanis, Jordanians, Syrians, Palestinians, and Egyptians-- were contracted on an individual basis, mostly in training and logistics assignments. As many as 11,000 to 15,000 Pakistani troops and advisers had been recruited to bring the two armored brigades to full strength, as well as to serve in engineering units and the air force. The 10,000 troops in the armored service left the country beginning in late 1987, reportedly because Pakistan was unwilling to screen the Shia element from the force at a time when conflict with Iran seemed a possibility.

Data as of December 1992

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Saudi Arabia Table of Contents