Country Listing

Saudi Arabia Table of Contents

Saudi Arabia

Cooperation with the United States

Between 1947 and 1991, Saudi Arabia's purchases under the Foreign Military Sales program of the United States Department of Defense totaled approximately US$60 billion. More than 80 percent of these purchases were for construction of infrastructure--bases and command and control facilities--together with maintenance, spare parts, and training. Fewer than 20 percent of the purchases were for weapons.

The first United States military mission of any consequence arrived in Saudi Arabia in 1943, but the first significant mutual defense agreement was not formalized until June 1951. As a result of that agreement, a United States Military Training Mission (USMTM) arrived for duty in the kingdom in 1953 to supervise all military assistance and training activities. Until the late 1960s, this assistance was provided primarily on a grant basis. During the reign of Saud, the government was continually faced with large budget deficits despite increasing oil revenues. By 1964, after Saud had been deposed and Faisal had become king, the country was on a better economic footing and it was able to pay for the major purchases of arms, infrastructure, and training services that followed.

Initially, the primary purpose of the United States in establishing the special relationship with Saudi Arabia was to check the spread of Soviet influence in that area of the world and the consequent threat to Middle East oil. The Saudis were conscious of the Soviet danger, and the royal family was inherently anticommunist; nevertheless, because of proximity, Israel and Iran were perceived to be the most immediate threats to the security of the kingdom. Saudi Arabia did not want the Arabian Peninsula to become an arena of superpower contention and was opposed to the establishment of United States bases or to the stationing in the kingdom of large numbers of United States military personnel.

After the October 1973 Arab-Israeli war, which triggered a sharp increase in oil prices, Saudi Arabia was able to allocate large sums to the modernization and training of the armed forces. Until the late 1980s, the primary areas of activity by the United States were the wide range of construction activities by the Army Corps of Engineers, the Saudi Naval Expansion Program, and the Saudi Ordnance Corps Program to establish an integrated logistics, supply, and maintenance system. In 1988 the Corps of Engineers completed its program that had kept it engaged in the kingdom for twenty-three years.

President Jimmy Carter's proposal to sell advanced F-15 fighter aircraft to Saudi Arabia in 1978 and his proposal to loan and later to sell the kingdom AWACS aircraft after the outbreak of the Iran-Iraq War in 1980 touched off bitter disputes in Congress. The sale of the F-15s was approved under conditions that limited their range and offensive power because of fears that they could tip the regional balance against Israel. President Ronald Reagan decided the sale of the AWACS aircraft should proceed to help the Saudis guard against attacks on their oil installations. He urged that the transfer of five AWACS and seven aerial refueling tankers be approved. The package also included auxiliary fuel tanks for the F-15 fighters and more than 1,000 Sidewinder air-to-air missiles. For Saudi Arabia, the purchase request became a test of the firmness of the relationship, but for the United States it became a political nightmare because Israel and its supporters in the United States raised strenuous objections to the sale. After lengthy congressional hearings and investigations, the package was narrowly approved with special restrictions on the use of the AWACS aircraft.

In 1985 President Reagan sought authority to sell Saudi Arabia forty-two additional F-15s, antiaircraft missiles, Harpoon antiship missiles, and Blackhawk troop-carrying helicopters. Again, the proposal raised a storm of opposition in Congress and had to be withdrawn. In 1986 and 1988, scaled-down packages were introduced and eventually approved by Congress after Stinger antiaircraft and Maverick antitank missiles were deleted. Among the approved items were Bradley fighting vehicles, TOW II antitank missiles, electronic upgrades for the F-15s, and twelve additional F-15s to remain in the United States until needed as replacements.

United States arms transfer agreements with Saudi Arabia increased dramatically in 1990. Of a total of US$14.5 billion in contracts signed, US$6.1 billion preceded the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait. They included LAVs, TOW II launchers and missiles, and 155mm howitzers, all for the national guard, 315 M1A2 tanks, and 30 tank recovery vehicles. After the invasion, the United States hastily arranged a package that included F-15 aircraft, M1A2 and M-60A3 tanks and other armored vehicles, Stinger, TOW II, and Patriot missiles, Apache helicopters, and about 10,000 trucks.

A second phase of the arms package, worth an estimated US$14 billion, was postponed in early 1991 to reassess Saudi needs in the postwar atmosphere in the Persian Gulf. It was reported to include additional F-15s, M1A2 tanks, AWACS aircraft, and Bradley fighting vehicles. As of the close of 1991, the United States faced the question of reconciling Saudi Arabia's desire for further large-scale arms purchases to build its deterrent strength with the United States desire to limit the export of advanced weaponry to the volatile Middle East region. The issue was linked to negotiations over the preliminary positioning of equipment for up to one army corps in depots on Saudi territory to permit the rapid deployment of United States ground forces in the event of renewed Middle East hostilities.

Data as of December 1992

Country Listing

Saudi Arabia Table of Contents