228. Briefing Memorandum From the Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern and South Asian Affairs (Saunders) to Secretary of State Muskie 1


  • Update on U.S. Security Assistance Efforts in Saudi Arabia

We recently met with the head of the United States Military Training Mission in Saudi Arabia, Major General Charles Donnelly, USAF, who was in Washington for consultations. During our discussions with General Donnelly, we discussed the status of ongoing U.S. military programs in Saudi Arabia.

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F–15 Enhancement Items

We understand DOD has completed its analysis of the F–15 enhancement items.2 This study, designed for internal U.S. Government use only and not to be given to the Saudis, could provide the technical background for any future consultations with the Congress on the F–15 items. The final section of the study discusses the threat to Israel that would be posed by increasing the F–15’s range. While making clear the more than adequate Israeli capability to defend against F–15 penetration and to retaliate massively against the Saudis, the study does point out that with conformal fuel pods and air refueling capability, the Saudis could reach the Israeli heartland from their main operating bases. This conclusion could make winning Congressional assent on the enhancement issue more difficult.3

A second DOD study analyzing Saudi needs for an air defense early warning system is also being completed by DOD.4 This second study is being funded by the Saudis and will be provided to them after being reviewed by DOD and State. It discusses, we understand, the relative merits of an all ground radar early warning system vis-a-vis a mix of ground and airborne (AWACS) systems.

The Current AWACS Deployment

General Donnelly reports that the current deployment of four U.S. AWACS to Saudi Arabia is proceeding smoothly. In response to our advice, the Saudis have adjusted the locations of their ground-based radar systems in the Eastern Province and an improved communications system has been put into effect.

U.S. Contingency Planning and Regional Security Discussions

General Donnelly explained that he had briefed Saudi military officials on the general outlines of the U.S. concept for air defense, naval coordination, and joint contingency planning and was awaiting a Saudi reaction when Prince Sultan directed a Saudi pull back from talks in reaction to our public statements on the F–15 enhancement items. These discussions remain in abeyance and it is unlikely that they will be resumed until the F–15 enhancement item issue is resolved. These talks did, however, result in one positive forward step in regional air defense; a Saudi early warning radar has been deployed to Bahrain.

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Future Saudi Arms Requests

The Saudi arms list given to Zbig during his February 1980 visit to Saudi Arabia contained most of the anticipated Saudi requests for the near to mid-term.5 We have put off final decisions on many of these items on the grounds that they are not yet deployed with U.S. forces, but the USG will need to take policy decisions as individual items come into the U.S. inventory.

In addition, General Donnelly believes the Saudis will want to station advanced fighter aircraft at Tabuk, the Saudi military facility closest to Israel. In his 1978 letter to Congress, Secretary Brown stated we had received Saudi assurances that the F–15 would not be stationed at Tabuk and that the Saudis would not acquire additional advanced fighter aircraft while preparing for and receiving the sixty F–15s.6 If the Saudis seek to eliminate the restriction on F–15 basing at Tabuk or move to acquire a third-country aircraft (perhaps the French MIRAGE), this will raise further Congressional concern. The next Administration will need to pay careful attention to this potential problem.

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Bureau of Politico-Military Affairs, General Program Country Files Concerning Security Assistance (arms) Programs (1980–1984), Lot 86D371, Box 2, Saudi Arabia 1980. Secret. Drafted by Arietti; cleared by Countryman, Gibney, Twinam, and Edgar.
  2. Not found.
  3. An unknown hand underlined the portion of the paragraph that begins with “the study does not point out” to the end and placed a vertical line in the margin next to this portion of the paragraph.
  4. Not found.
  5. See Document 207.
  6. In this sentence, an unknown hand underlined the year “1978” and the words beginning with “Brown stated we had received Saudi assurances” to the end of the sentence. In his letter of May 10, 1978, to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Brown asserted that Saudi Arabia had agreed on restrictions so that the F–15s would not be used against Israel. See footnote 11, Document 216.