233. Memorandum From the Joint Chiefs of Staff to Secretary of Defense McNamara1


  • Dhahran Airfield and Broadened Saudi-US Military Cooperation (C)


Reference is made to:2
American Embassy, Jidda, message 133, Control 15663, dated 19 August 1964.
American Embassy, Jidda, message 134. Control 15633, DTG 181429Z August 1964.
CINCSTRIKE/USCINCMEAFSA message, STRJ-5-E 7717, DTG 251938Z July 1964.
CINCSTRIKE/USCINCMEAFSA message, STRJ-5-E 7387, DTG 160040Z July 1964.
At a meeting on 17 June 1964, CINCSTRIKE/USCINCMEAFSA and the American Ambassador to Saudi Arabia discussed utilization of Dhahran Airfield with Crown Prince Faysal. The references contain details of that meeting, the political background, and a request that the Joint Chiefs of Staff:
Obtain DOD approval in principle for installation of an Instrument Landing System (ILS) and for repair/replacement of the Tactical [Page 452]Air Navigation (TACAN) facility at Dhahran Airfield, conditional on substantial Saudi agreement to US approaches for increased military cooperation.
Forward such conditional approval, via Department of State channels, to the Ambassador for possible use in his forthcoming approaches to the Saudis toward obtaining increased Saudi-US military cooperation encompassing prestockage of ground handling equipment at Dhahran Airfield, periodic visits by a US fighter squadron, and an annual Saudi-US joint exercise.
Furnish preliminary views concerning the appropriate program approval authority and source of funds for purchase, installation, and support costs.
The TACAN and ILS are of concern only as bargaining instruments. The basic question is whether or not there is a sufficient need for the increased use of Dhahran Airfield, as expressed by CINCSTRIKE/USCINCMEAFSA, to warrant US provision of an ILS and TACAN.
Should the United States be denied Wheelus, the requirement for Dhahran Airfield as a substitute staging base to the East Africa area would be most urgent. There is a current requirement for staging rights into Dhahran Airfield for improved access into Iran and Pakistan. An alternate route into the East Africa area is also required should Wheelus be temporarily denied because of weather or other factors. The possible loss of Wheelus and the peacetime training that would be obtained under this proposal by both the US and Saudi military are factors which make Dhahran Airfield base rights a highly desirable commodity.
Current US military operations into Dhahran Airfield consist principally of three scheduled MATS flights a week. Although existing navigational aids are considered adequate to support these flights (weather conditions permit visual flight rules/instrument flight rules approach and landing operations 96.8% of the time), the availability of an ILS and TACAN would contribute to increased operational capability and safety aspects of both MATS and commercial carriers transiting Dhahran Airfield. Additionally, the existence of such fixed aids would reduce planned US Air Force mobile support requirements for this base.
From the Saudi Arabian point of view, the modernization of Dhahran Airfield resulting from these two navigational aids would undoubtedly contribute to Saudi prestige by providing an all-weather capability comparable to that of other international airports. Furthermore, the TACAN would be a primary instrument approach aid for any Saudi military aircraft of US origin. Thus, it is hoped that the Saudi Arabian Government will be favorably disposed to the acceptance of improved navigational aids at Dhahran Airfield as at least a partial quid pro quo for expanded Saudi-US military cooperation.
The US military services have both ILS and TACAN equipment which could be diverted to Dhahran Airfield. Neither the equipment nor the required installation and maintenance funds for Dhahran Airfield is included in current military programs. All items in current military programs are considered to be of equal or greater military priority than those in the CINCSTRIKE/USCINCMEAFSA proposal; therefore, funds are not available from the military services for this purpose.
Nevertheless, it is the opinion of the Joint Chiefs of Staff that the United States should agree, in principle, to the rehabilitation/replacement of the TACAN and installation of an ILS at Dhahran Airfield and to recurring maintenance of both facilities, subject to Saudi agreement as outlined above. Since funds are not available from the Services and since the political benefits to be gained by increased US presence in Saudi Arabia could equal or exceed the military benefits, consideration should be given to the possibility of accomplishment of this program by the Department of State. Informal working level coordination with the Federal Aviation Agency Office of International Aviation Affairs indicates the possibility that, upon request by the Department of State, the Federal Aviation Agency may provide the required equipment, installation, and maintenance. This approach would have the added benefit of reducing the military connotation which might otherwise be apparent should the ILS and TACAN be installed and maintained by military personnel.
Accordingly, it should be determined if the Saudi Arabian Government is favorably disposed toward the acceptance of improved navigational aide at Dhahran Airfield in exchange for expanded Saudi-US military cooperation, generally as outlined in reference 1 d, above.
The Joint Chiefs of Staff recommend that:
The United States agree, in principle, to the rehabilitation/replacement of the TACAN and installation of an ILS at Dhahran Airfield, subject to Saudi agreement on substantial Saudi-US military cooperation.
The Department of State be requested to consider funding arrangements.
The Department of State convey the US position to the Saudi Arabian Government.
For the Joint Chiefs of Staff:
J. W. Davis 3
Rear Admiral, USN
Deputy Director, Joint Staff
  1. Source: Washington National Records Center, RG 330, OSD Files: FRC 69 A 7425, Saudi Arabia 686, 28 Oct. 64. Secret.
  2. The references are attached but not printed.
  3. Printed from a copy that indicates Davis signed the original.