138. Telegram From the Departments of State and Defense to the Embassy in Saudi Arabia1

33933. Subj: Saudi Naval Request. Refs: Jidda A–368; Jidda 607.2

Joint State/Defense Message.

Saudi naval request presented us in December 19693 goes well beyond recommendations of February 1969 USN Survey Team report4 and includes items of considerable sophistication which we believe will for some years exceed capabilities RSNF to operate and maintain without sizeable and expensive foreign support. In some cases items requested, e.g., surface-to-surface missiles, are not presently in USN inventory and are unavailable from U.S. sources. Naval force of size envisioned in SAG requests would appear clearly beyond current financial capabilities of SAG, particularly view current and anticipated SAG investment in other defense and security programs. Before it would be possible for USG give commitment to sell specific items and services to RSNF, we would need further clarify SAG priorities for vessels, equipment, and training desired and to learn time frame over which SAG would expect this expansion effort take place. In this connection we concur para 2 reftel that something like USN Survey Team recommended force goals is realistic first step upon which RSNF could later expand if need requires.
We nevertheless concur with basic Country Team recommendation (para 4 refair) that it in overall U.S. interest to seek insofar as possible play primary role in RSNF expansion effort in view: (a) great importance King Faisal and SAG attach to USG support as evidenced by our responsiveness to Saudi arms requests; (b) continuing Saudi concern over potential threats from the Soviet-backed radical regime in Southern Yemen; (c) our hope that SAG will be able contribute, in conjunction with Iran, to maintenance stability in Persian Gulf following UK military withdrawal in 1971; and (d) our desire preserve and strengthen role of U.S. as principal all-around military advisor to SAG.
You therefore authorized inform SAG that USG prepared in principle assist it in development of a naval force of reasonable size and military strength. In our view 1969 USN Survey Report recommendations, which were prepared following careful study of SAG requirements, if implemented, will provide Saudi Arabia by end of 10-year period covered by report with force which can be operated and maintained with minimum costly foreign technical assistance. USG prepared assist SAG meet force goals recommended in that report through cash sales of material and services.
We recognize there are major differences between USN Survey Report recommendations and December 1969 SAG naval requests. While SAG is, of course, final judge its own legitimate naval requirements, we concerned lest Saudi request to us insufficiently reflect currently limited Saudi financial and manpower resources. Naval forces of size indicated by SAG request would require considerable investment of financial resources and skilled personnel and would probably be impossible to achieve without serious adverse impact on other desirable military and general development objectives. As SAG itself recognizes in calling for special DOD evaluation mission, proposed expansion programs, such as RSNF, must be carefully considered in relation other priority SAG military projects, current and projected. Decision to implement as first step more modest RSNF expansion program along lines recommended in USN Survey Report would not, of course, preclude SAG from later deciding to purchase additional vessels and equipment once basic naval force established and SAG has had benefit this experience to assess its further naval requirements. It would, however, make it easier for SAG absorb requisite later expansion.
We hope senior officials will discuss SAG naval requests frankly with naval member of DOD Evaluation Team now being organized. On basis these discussions we would then be able develop more detailed and specific info re Saudi priority needs as well as those portions of SAG request USG would be able to support and those which unavailable from US sources.5
In light of foregoing paragraph and Country Team recommendations contained Jidda’s 542,6 we are seeking obtain services of broadly experienced USN captain, if possible with missile background, [Page 442] to serve as Naval member of DOD Evaluation Team. We will make every effort see that this officer, after his selection, is thoroughly briefed on USN Survey Report recommendations as well as on SAG naval requests.
  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Files 1970–73, DEF 12–5 SAUD. Secret. Drafted on March 6 by Wrampelmeier; cleared in PM/MAS, OSD/ISA/ NESA, NEA/ARP, NEA/RA, and by Davies; and approved by Sisco. It was repeated to the Consulate General in Dhahran, CHUSMTM Dhahran, CINCSTRIKE, COE MEDDIV Livorno, and CHNAVOPS.
  2. Airgram A–368 was not found. Telegram 607 from Jidda, February 18, reiterates Eilts’s concern that the Saudi naval buildup proceed at a measured pace. (Ibid.) The Saudis had repeatedly pressured for a response to their naval request. (Telegram 742 from Jidda, March 1; telegram 763 from Jidda, March 2; and telegram 803 from Jidda, March 5; all ibid.)
  3. See footnote 8, Document 136.
  4. See footnote 2, Document 131.
  5. Based on this telegram, Eilts sent the Department a draft aide-mémoire to be presented to King Faisal. (Telegram 936 from Jidda, March 7; National Archives, RG 59, Central Files 1970–73, DEF 12–5 SAUD)
  6. In telegram 542 from Jidda, February 12, the Embassy enumerated the various requirements, skills, and tasks appropriate for the team of experts that would evaluate the Saudi military establishment. (Ibid., DEF 1 SAUD)