Ruling the waters
A few days ago, Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who is also Saudi Arabia’s defense minister, flew to the United States aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN-71), which is fourth of the USS Nimitz-class aircraft carriers. During the visit, he was briefed about the role and capabilities of the aircraft carrier and observed flight operations as aircraft launched from and landed aboard the carrier’s flight deck.
His visit marked a continuous strategic cooperation between Saudi Arabia and the United States. USS Theodore Roosevelt is currently on round-the-world deployment and will be heading to its base in San Diego, California. The report about this visit brought back memories of my over three decades of service in the Saudi Royal Naval Forces.
One of those beautiful memories was a visit to the USS Nimitz with some Saudi naval officers. The visit took place during operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm, which was launched to liberate Kuwait. It was a breathtaking experience. You takeoff and land at a blink of an eye. As a matter of fact, it is controlled crash you hope nothing goes wrong. Margin of error is a big zero.
Cooperation between the Saudi and American navies goes back a long way. During the early 1970s the Saudi navy went through a massive development through a strategic and ambitious program called Saudi Navy Expansion Program (SNEP). A mega agreement was signed between the Kingdom and the US to transform the Saudi navy into a multi-role force and blue water navy and thus becoming the most powerful in the area. As part of this program, the Saudi navy acquired more than 20 ships from different categories. The ships included mine sweepers and missile-guided ships with powerful capabilities. The program also included many other support assets such as building of modern naval bases full of all necessary support units such as supply system, housing, docks, communication facilities, air strips, schools, training facilities, sports complexes and very sophisticated command and control centers. But the most important of them all was the massive and long-term training programs for officers and enlisted Saudi navy personnel.
Training of Saudi naval personnel took place in many of the American naval and air force bases. San Antonio in Texas saw the biggest waves of thousands of Saudi trainees. Lackland Air Force Base was home to many Saudis. Naval bases in San Diego, California, also witnessed a wave of Saudis reaching there for training purposes. In later years, Norfolk, Virginia, became the training hub for Saudi ship’s crew that lasted many years. After many months of training aboard the ships that the Saudis bought from the US, the Saudi ships set sail to Saudi Arabia. Some were based at King Abdulaziz Naval Base in Jubail on the Arabian Gulf and some were home ported at King Faisal Naval Base in Jeddah on the Red Sea. The voyage from the US was an experience I will never forget. At the time, I was the operation officer of HMS Khalid (PGG-519).
The Saudi navy played and still plays a major role in protecting the Saudi shores from any outside aggression. The Saudi navy is a multi-role force that not only comprises naval ships and attack boats but it also has formidable marine units, special operation units and very large aviation units. The Saudi navy is on the road to making major developments and upgrades of its forces that will make it a world power in naval superiority. The Saudi navy had many development programs with other countries such as Pakistan, the UK, Spain and France etc. Development of the Saudi navy saw many stages of upgrades through mega projects such as the mine hunter program with the UK and massive training programs with France, which included acquiring state- of-the-art naval frigates with very complicated weapon systems through an extensive program called (Alsawari). The Saudi navy at this stage is on the road of acquiring many naval units to strengthen its capabilities to protect our beloved country.