238. Telegram From the Embassy in Saudi Arabia to the Department of State 1

643. Saudi Air Defense Survey. Deptel 400 to Jidda.2

On 28 Feb, I met with Prince Sultan to introduce DEFREPNAMA Hooper. We were accompanied by Adm Sweeney and CHUSMTM Gen. Leahy. Among other subjects we discussed air defense for Saudi Arabia at length.

Our opening remarks were based on Deptel 400 and covered certain desirable features in an aircraft such as twin-engine reliability, maintenance characteristics, accident rate comparison, degree of difficulty in pilot training and performance characteristics. These remarks included advantages of F-5. It was stated USG desired to help Prince Sultan solve his air defense problem.

Sultan indicated information received from various aircraft manufacturers contained proposals beyond recommendations in Air Defense Survey. He stated his air defense evaluation teams report compared Lockheed, Northrop, British Aircraft Corporation (BAC) and French Government proposals and had rated aircraft in the following priority to satisfy Saudi air defense requirement:

Lockheed F-104G
Lightning Mark II and III
Mirage III
Northrop 5-A
Lockheed F-104H.

Discussion then centered around comparisons of F-104 with Sidewinder and Sparrow weapons, Lightning with Fire Streak and Red Top weapons, Mirage III with Metra IR and radar missiles. Prince Sultan indicated Egyptians had MIG-21 equipped with a weapon equivalent to Sparrow. He asserted Saudi military air needs were purely defensive [Page 462]in character and noted that threat from neighboring countries consisted of MIG-21 and Mirage III. Therefore he concluded, Saudi Arabia must have the F-104G, preferably with Sparrow. He emphasized Saudi Arabia requests a US weapons system to counter threat of its neighbors and pointed out cost differential not important where safety of country at stake.

In reply Hooper pointed out to Sultan that this was first time USG representatives had received official Saudi request for F-104G model and that this request was beyond aircraft recommended by Air Defense Survey and that request would be passed to Washington immediately for study. (Officers attending meeting however took immediate occasion to indicate F-104G with Sparrow should not be considered further since combination not developed. Radar development could change aircraft characteristics. Sultan was told that several NATO countries found F-104G equipped with Sparrow to be too expensive a weapons system.)

Sultan revealed that complete Lockheed package proposal with ground environmental (GE) radar and communications including 36 F-104G with Sidewinders would cost 180 million dollars. At this point in meeting we were joined by additional US representatives from Embassy, ISA (Feigl), DEFREPNAMA’s party and USMTM.

Sultan was then asked if he would be interested in F-104H with latter conversion to G model, after training completed. He made no direct response but stated he wanted to buy one package, under USG supervision or under BAC or French Government. He did not want a mixture of aircraft and GE equipment from differing national design. He then requested that, through USMTM, a reassessment of original SAG Air Defense Survey and of Saudi evaluation team report be arranged. He will provide USMTM with first review these packages to ascertain what qualified personnel would be necessary to conduct assessment.

Subject to STRICOM approval, USMTM will review material made available to it and subsequently request:

Qualified personnel beyond its resources to establish necessary review board.
Necessary policy guidance to assist review board in drawing up its recommendations.
Final approval by DOD and State of Review Board’s recommendations prior to submission to SAG.
Intercession with US manufacturers by DOD to suspend sales promotion contact with SAG or USMTM during period this review.

Comment: Additional comments by DEFREPNAMA will follow from Paris. Embassy also preparing comments. Meanwhile, Embassy sees no objection to STRICOM authorizing USMTM to review materials which Sultan is going to make available.

  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1964-66, DEF 12-5 SAUD-US. Secret; Priority. Sent also to CINCSTRIKE/CINCMEAFSA and repeated to Dhahran, London, Paris, CHUSMTM Dhahran, DEFREPNAMA Paris, DIA, DOD, and 1127th USAFFAG Fort Belvoir, Virginia
  2. Telegram 400 to Jidda, February 17, instructed the Ambassador to approach Saqqaf and Prince Sultan to discuss Saudi air defense needs, noting that the U.S. Government had attempted to maintain neutrality between the F-5 and the F-104 and was reluctant to favor one U.S. manufacturer over another. Since both aircraft were capable of providing an adequate air defense for Saudi Arabia, it seemed advisable for the Saudis to choose the one with the greatest ease of maintenance and the lowest accident rate. With this approach, it should be possible to make the U.S. position clear without specifically recommending the F-5, but rather by recommending its virtues as those that should be most important to the Saudis. (Ibid.)