In Defense of the Kingdom: Contemporary Saudi Arabia Military & Security Strategy


CAPTION: U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates (left) and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice (center) meet with Saudi Arabia’s intelligence chief, Prince Muqrin bin Abdul Aziz al-Saud (center right) and the Saudi Arabian Ambassador to the United States, Adel al-Jubair (right) in the Red Sea port city of Jeddah to discuss solutions to the regions instability challenges.

An Analysis of Potential Destabilization Threats and Defensive Counter Strategies

Current & Future Threat Analysis
The scope of potential threats to the Kingdom is vast. The primary threat scenarios are currently asymmetrical in nature but do not preclude the potential for more conventional hostilities due to geographic proximity to unstable nation states in the region, as well as an often controversial and shifting political & trade relationship posture with the west.

In the hostile non-state actor realm, threat scenarios exist in all domains including air, surface and sub-surface. This would include terrorist acts toward the royal family, authority figures, military and security personnel and assets, major population centers, and commerce infrastructure (such as oil drilling, pipelines and port terminal equipment and systems as at the Abqaiq facility). The possibility of guerilla-like hit-and run coastal and border incursions is considerable, and could create major physical damage as well as disrupt critical Islamic religious & societal rites.

An unusual guest: Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (left) is greeted by Saudi King Abdullah in Riyadh. Will the hand holding mark a new beginning?

Map depicts the concentrated oil and natural gas processing infrastructure of Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Qatar including major oil & gas fields, pipelines and the Abqaiq oil processing facility.

The significant oil exportation infrastructure and the resultant necessity to transit the straight of Hormuz offers a considerable high-impact target for initiating maritime domain attacks by surface and sub-surface adversaries (for additional perspective, see my recent post entitled Maritime Security in the Era of Globalization, also on this site). Small boats outfitted with even primitive weapons present a major threat to cargo and tanker ships operating in the gulf. Swimmers and unmanned underwater vehicles also must be addressed in any comprehensive threat assessment.

Yanbu’s 322,000-barrel per day Saudi Aramco Refinery produces gasoline, diesel, kerosene, fuel oil, and sulfur for export.


The reality of rocket attack was already demonstrated in the Gulf War with SCUD targeting of US forces based in Riyadh and elsewhere that originated in Iraq. At the time, the absence of a capable air defense system resulted in the loss of considerable life and destruction of military equipment and stores. Air attacks; either from air-breathing threats or unmanned combat aerial vehicles UCAV establish the need for a comprehensive air-to-air defensive solution. Surface launched attacks from rockets, mortars, cruise missiles and ballistic missiles also present major defensive challenges and the necessity for a comprehensive layered air defense system.

Iran’s Uranium Conversion Facility, just outside the city of Isfahan 410 kilometers south of the capital Tehran, reprocesses uranium ore concentrate, known as yellowcake, into uranium hexaflouride gas. The gas is then taken to Natanz and fed into the centrifuges for enrichment.

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Iran’s president, has said that there is “no reverse gear” on his country’s nuclear program, as Tehran announced that it had successfully launched a rocket into space.


Additionally, preventing Cyber attacks from disrupting military and industry communications and the destruction or contamination of data assets has recently become elevated in the Kingdoms threat assessment hierarchy. The future of the threat environment is uncertain, and the ever-evolving multi-dimensional potential for hostile acts of aggression will most certainly adversely impact the economic, social and political stability of the Kingdom, irrespective of contingencies.

The Priority Targets
The obvious targets on which an aggressor would likely focus could consist of a broad mix of religious and commercial infrastructure, as illustrated in the table below.

  1. Mosques & Holy Sites
  2. The King, Royal Family & Leadership
  3. Population and Cultural Centers
  4. Commerce Infrastructure & Industrial Assets
  5. Seaports and Airports
  6. Border Crossings
  7. Communications
  8. Oil and Gas Infrastructure
  9. Power and Desalination Plants
  10. Military Assets
  11. Air and Naval Bases
  12. Command and Control Systems

Defense & Security Priorities
A defensive strategy for the Kingdom should be viewed in the concept of two broad constructs; Security Missions and Military Missions. Solutions to these mission requirements should provide an integrated defense and security capabilities platform that is built upon proven, state of the art technology and that is also adaptable, interoperable and supportable by both native, joint and coalition forces.

The Primary Military & Security Missions Include:

  1. Provide Security for the Kingdom
  2. Deter terrorist attacks
  3. Provide maritime awareness & security
  4. Provide security for critical infrastructure assets
  5. Protect the King and the Royal Family
  6. Defend holy sites, vital facilities, and critical infrastructure
  7. Deter regional threats
  8. Control and secure the border
  9. Serve as the guardian force in Arabian and Red Sea
  10. Perform Air-space, Ballistic and Cruise Missile defense

Analysis of Defense Strategies & Tactics
An effective defensive capability will require the interoperability of all security and defense assets in a net-centric battle space management solution centered upon the existence of a redundant integrated network. The integrated network should deliver C2 across all three primary activity domains: air defense, surface defense and sub-surface defense, as well as enable interoperability with joint & coalition force C2 capability.

An Effective Air-Defense Solution
Depicted below is a hypothetical solution to a wide range of air-superiority and air-defense missions utilizing existing fielded kit as well as emerging technologies from multi-national industry. An integrated network centerpiece would be enabled to perform bi-directional communications and control with air platforms including the AWACS airborne relay system, US AWACS systems, and air superiority and ground attack aircraft of the RSAF. US SATCOM would provide additional Landsat G2. Additionally, coalition naval forces operating in the gulf region, centered upon the carrier strike group, could provide unprecedented air-defense, missile defense, air-superiority and force projection capability.


An array of elevated sensors in both an aerostat and tower-mounted configuration would provide a low-cost persistent surveillance capability enabled by an electro optical/infrared (EO/IR) sensor suite with acoustic, IR, eye-safe laser range finder, laser range designator and laser illuminator features for battlefield and homeland security applications. Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV or UCAV) could also be enabled to project ISR capabilities.

Existing Patriot PAC 2 (or upgraded PAC 3) missile defense systems are currently deployed in the tactical or ballistic missile defense (BMD) role and could be complimented by the use of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system to provide a total layered defensive solution for all boost, mid-course and terminal missile threats.

Solutions to defend infrastructure, permanent camps and forward operating bases against hostile rocket artillery and mortar attacks are increasingly becoming THE critical elements of an effective layered defensive capability. CRAM (or) C-RAM Counter Rocket, Artillery & Mortar solutions (or DAMA – Defense Against Mortar Attack as referred by NATO) has become elevated in the defensive strategy needs hierarchy as a result of recent increased capability and availability developments on the part of potential adversaries.

As the nature of the various threat types is quite diverse, there is no single solution that will address all current and future C-RAM mission scenarios. The current military planning to address these challenges is to deploy multiple defensive layers with both proactive and reactive capabilities. A requirements analysis reveals three primary and six total mission attributes; shape, prevent, warn, intercept, protect and attack.

Shaping infers analysis and prevention through the use of patrol and surveillance to create an environment of deterrence or to steer adversaries into designated and pre-sited locations where sensors & firepower can be used to detect and destroy hostile assets.

Sensing provides the capability to electronically scan and deliver warning intelligence. A wide variety of sensor systems are actively available including TRS Firefinder counter-battery radars, TPQ – lightweight counter-mortar radar, and TPS Sentinel air-surveillance radars. Soon to be available will be a Lockheed Martin EQ-36 Counter Fire Target Acquisition Radar (CTAR) that uses active-array technology. Many other solutions are under development by industry to upgrade the current capability including air and ground surveillance based platforms as well as acoustic detection systems from Northrop Grumman (G/ATOR) Saab Microwave Systems (GFR – ARTHUR), Rafael (ARTILOC) & Thales (SMAD), amongst others. Their availability for export under foreign military sales (FMS) programs by the DoD Defense Security Cooperation Agency first require approval by Congress.

Warning systems provides intelligence that will initiate visual and audible alerts and provide forces with information indicating the incoming direction and potential blast zone footprint of hostile fires. This will enable them to seek shelter and take appropriate protective measures. The current solution is the MadahCom’s Wireless Audio Visual Emergency System (WAVES). In forward positions, MadahCom provides a portable TACWAVES unit that relies on a low-powered mobile audio system.

The Intercept mission is the hard-kill of hostile rocket, artillery and mortar fires. To date, the first deployment in Afghanistan and Iraq has been the LPWS, a variation of the US Navy Phalanx Block 1B close-in weapons system (CIWS). Mounted on a flatbed trailer, the system comprises an integrated AN/UPS-2 Ku-band search-and track radar, thermal sensor and automatic target acquisition video tracker.


Photo shows CIWS deployed in a traditional naval air and missile defense role aboard a US warship.


Reconfigured for C-RAM mission capability, the US Army made slight modifications to the Navy system to integrate it into the Army’s ground defense mission and command and control structure. The 20mm, six-barrel Phalanx gun system and its search and track radars are trailer-mounted to allow movement to key military and infrastructure sites. The system is primarily used today in a forward operating base (FOB) where C4ISR is performed by the base defense operations center (BDOC) and engagement operations (EO) using FireFinder, Sentinel and LCMR systems to enable rules of engagement and plot a fire control solution within the airspace control zone but with projectile destruction occurring outside of the defended area.

Firepower is delivered from the gun mount with a M61A1 six-barrel 20mm gatling gun that fires 3000-4500 rounds per minute of the M940 HEI-T self destruct munitions. The use of the CIWS in a C-RAM mission solution is an outstanding example of re-purposing a battle-proven solution originally designed for Naval warfare in an air and surface hostile projectile targeting, tracking and destruction mission. Additional C-RAM intercept solutions in development includes Oerlikon’s Skyshield system, Northrop Grumman’s energy directed solution called Skyguard, a variation of the US/Israeli experimental tactical high-energy laser (THEL), amongst many others. Export sale or license under FMS ITAR by Congress via. DSCA is yet to be determined.

An Effective Surface Defense Solution
Depicted is a hypothetical solution to a wide range of surface-defense missions that also utilize existing and fielded kit as well as emerging technologies from multi-national industry. Again, the integrated network is the solution centerpiece and could be enabled to perform bi-directional communications and control with land and sea based sensors & systems.


Our illustration shows a combination of upgraded naval war ships providing a defensive perimeter zone in cooperation with coalition naval forces principally centered on the carrier task group. Land based radars and elevated sensors deliver situational awareness to the integrated network, which in turn distributes C4ISR to both land and naval forces.

An Effective Sub- surface Defense Solution
In our hypothetical sub-surface defense solution, we have illustrated the use of sonar arrays and maritime domain awareness sensors to detect adversarial small watercraft and swimmers intent on penetrating port facilities and naval installations.


Unmanned underwater vehicles (UUV) would deliver increased surveillance capability as well as offer the potential to autonomously detect and disarm mines placed in critical sea-lanes.

Once again, the integrated network delivers C4ISR, and provides a unified security and battle space view across air, surface and sub-surface domains, as well as interoperability with joint and coalition forces.

From Concept to Reality
On August. 1, 2007, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice joined Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saudi al Faysal and Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah to announce a military sales package to several Middle Eastern countries, including Saudi Arabia. Both U.S. and Saudi leaders portrayed the package as an investment in the region’s long-term stability.

Rice released a statement about the plan indicating the package “will help bolster forces of moderation and support a broader strategy to counter the negative influences of al Qaeda, Hezbollah, Syria and Iran.”

Rice Egypt

“We are helping to strengthen the defensive capabilities of our partners and we plan to initiate discussions with Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf states on a proposed package of military technologies that will help support their ability to secure peace and stability in the Gulf region,” the statement said.

The package will consist of missile defenses, including early-warning and air capabilities; maritime capabilities, with enhancements to Saudi Arabia’s eastern fleet; weaponry to counter unconventional threats; and enhanced counter-proliferation capabilities.

The Saudi foreign minister said Saudi Arabia is a peaceful country in an area of tremendous threat and upheaval. “So it is not strange that it is trying to acquire a posture of defense that will protect the interests and safety of the people of Saudi Arabia.”  He expressed concern about terrorists crossing into Saudi Arabia from Iraq as one reason Saudi Arabia has asked the United States for more security cooperation. Congress must approve the sales package before it is formalized.

About the Author
I am an accomplished advanced and disruptive technology analyst. I help organizations manage their overall marketing strategy and efforts including market analysis, identification of business opportunities and risks, strategic alliances and partnering, systems engineering and customer requirements, business development programs and marketing, advertising and communications initiatives & plans.

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