222. Telegram From the Embassy in Saudi Arabia to the Department of State1

791. Department pass DOD for ACSI. Presentation Air Defense Survey. This is Country Team message (coordination delayed by transmission difficulties).

At six hour meeting January 20 at Ministry of Defense Riyadh DOD team composed of Colonels Toliver and Taylor and Mr. Quinn presented Air Defense Survey report2 to Saudi group headed by Minister Prince Sultan and including Chief of Staff Mutlaq. US group attending included CHUSMTM Colonel Wilson, Richard Murphy, Air Attache Scott and myself.

Presentation received with keen interest by Saudis who compared operational concept, troop structure and broad equipment requirements with air defense annex of Saudi “Armed Force Defense Plan Number 1.” Saudis were obviously pleased to find there was close correlation. Prince Sultan reacted most favorably and wound up by requesting US team confer with Saudi Army/Air Force team to finalize as far as possible detailed equipment list and construction requirements. Stated he would study point committee recommendations and asked for twice daily progress reports while committee in session. Asserted he would present his findings to Supreme Defense Council as soon as definite figures furnished htm. Mentioned twice he desired buy best equipment available and wanted to be sure cost considerations had not prevented survey team from recommending latest design in optimum hardware.

Team emphasized repeatedly their recommendations based on best estimate of what SAG able support both financially and with Saudi personnel over next five years. Sultan seemed lo accept equipment requirements for communications, radar and aircraft without particular reservation. He was told if he bought F-86 aircraft CAR air to air missiles could be installed immediately. He asked specifically for US recommendations as to whether Northrop F-5A or Lockheed F-104 [Page 428]should be selected. Our reply stressed comparative costs and characteristics, avoided plugging either. Sultan accepted generally requirements for modernizing army air defense equipment expressing doubts, however, on need for 54 Twin-40 mm M-42 “Dusters,” feeling these would be expensive and apt to have only limited value in future.

Missiles. Sultan seemed to accept justification non-inclusion surface-to-air missiles at this lime because of great expense higher priority need for other air defense elements and long lead time needed to prepare candidates to even begin training. Nevertheless he and his staff showed persistent interest in same. Sultan specifically asked how many units of Hawk would be needed to protect Saudi Arabia’s four main urban areas. (Was told it would require one battalion each area, at estimated cost of 25 million dollars each.)

Maintenance. Sultan evidenced interest in idea of maintenance contract with single company for all communications and radar equipment as well as for aircraft. Apparently intends secure such bids from Lockheed and Northrop.

Credit. From several remarks made by Sultan and staff it apparent that credit terms available from US sources will be major consideration. At one point he said he had been offered favorable terms on wide range equipment by several countries, including offer of pilots to fly Saudi aircraft even in combat, until Saudis were ready.

Comment: Sultan and his staff were stimulated to surprising degree by detailed and thoughtful presentation. Sultan said he knew SAG lagging behind other Arab countries in modernizing armed forces but asserted “today we think in terms of seconds not minutes.” Hopefully we may have reached turning point in galvanizing Saudi energies for new effort at modernizing armed forces. Atmosphere distinctly encouraging.

Recommendation: That DOD promptly support CHUSMTM in any requests he may make for technical assistance from Air and Army Air Defense representatives to develop answers to questions arising from joint committee’s review of report. Important that momentum gained at this stage not be dissipated.

  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1964–66, DEF 1-4, SAUD. Secret. Repeated to Dhahran, CHUSMTM Dhahran, and CINCSTRIKE/CINCMEAFSA. Passed to DOD for ACSI.
  2. In April 1963 Ife United States offered Saudi Arabia assistance in expediting the build-up of Saudi air defense capabilities to be financed from Saudi resources, and agreed to conduct an air detente survey The U.S. Air Defense Survey Tram transmitted its report on Saudi air detente requirements to the Joint Chiefs of Staff on October 4, 1963. A summary of the Team’s recommendations (undated, ca 1/30/64) is in the Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Saudi Arabia. Memos. Vol. 2, 12/63–4/67.