Royal Saudi Air Force

Royal Saudi Air Force
القوات الجوية الملكية السعودية
Royal Saudi Air Force embelm.svg
Badge of the Royal Saudi Air Force
FoundedJune 1920; 102 years ago (1920-06) [1]
Country Saudi Arabia
TypeAir force
RoleAerial warfare
1,056 aircraft[2]
Part ofSaudi Arabian Armed Forces
Motto(s)"الله أكبر"
God is the greatest
DecorationsAir Force Hawk Medal, 1st Class SA.png
WebsiteOfficial website
Commander of the Air ForceLieutenant General Turki bin Bandar Al Saud
RoundelRoundel of Saudi Arabia.svg
Low Visible roundelRoundel of Saudi Arabia – Low Visibility.svg
Aircraft flown
E-3 Sentry, Saab 2000 AEW&C
FighterPanavia Tornado, Eurofighter Typhoon, F-15E
HelicopterBell 412, AS532, Sikorsky UH-60
ReconnaissancePanavia Tornado, King Air 350
TrainerPilatus PC-21A, PAC MFI-395, Cirrus SR22, BAE Hawk
TransportC-130H, C-130J, King Air 350

The Royal Saudi Air Force (Arabic: ‎الْقُوَّاتُ الْجَوِّيَّةُ الْمَلَكِيَّةْ ٱلسُّعُوْدِيَّة, romanizedAl-Quwwat Al-Jawiyah Al-Malakiyah as-Su’udiyah) (RSAF) is the aviation branch of the Saudi Arabian Armed Forces.

The Royal Saudi Air Force currently has approximately 1,106 aircraft, 40,000 active personnel, 23,000 recruits, 9 wings, +99 squadrons, and a Special Forces unit dedicated to combat search and rescue.

The RSAF has developed from a largely defensive military force into one with an advanced offensive capability, and maintains the third largest fleet of F-15s after the U.S. and Japanese air forces.

The backbone of the RSAF is currently the Boeing F-15 Eagle, with the Panavia Tornado also forming a major component. The Tornado and many other aircraft were delivered under the Al Yamamah contracts with British Aerospace (now BAE Systems).

The RSAF ordered various weapons in the 1990s, including Sea Eagle anti-ship missiles, laser-guided bombs and gravity bombs. Al-Salam, a successor to the Al Yamamah agreement will see 48 Eurofighter Typhoons delivered by BAE.


"The Saudi pilots training in Italy 1935"—a scene from 'Our Eagles', one of four video wall shows made for the Royal Saudi Air Force Museum.

The RSAF was formed in the mid-1920s with British assistance from the remains of the Hejaz Air Force.[4] It was initially equipped with Westland Wapiti IIA general purpose aircraft flown by pilots who had served Ali of Hejaz but had been pardoned by the Saudi king.[5] It was re-organized in 1950 and began to receive American assistance from 1952 including the use of Dhahran Airfield by the United States Air Force.

Early aircraft used by the RSAF included the Caproni Ca.100, Albatros D.III, Armstrong Whitworth F.K.8, Farman MF.11 Airco DH.9, dH 82 Tiger Moth, Westland Wapiti, Avro Anson, Douglas C-47, and the B-26 Invader.

As part of the Magic Carpet arms deal between the United Kingdom and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, four single-seat Hawker Hunter F.6s and two Hunter T.7s were ordered from Hawker in 1966. The aircraft were delivered to No. 6 Squadron at Khamis Mushayt Airbase in May 1966. Although the Hunters were operational following attacks on Saudi Arabia by the Egyptian Air Force they were not a success as interceptors as they lacked any ground control but were used for ground attack. One single-seat aircraft was lost in 1967 and the remaining aircraft were presented to Jordan in 1968.

The Saudi forces are equipped with mainly western equipment. Main suppliers to the RSAF are companies based in the United Kingdom and the United States. Both the UK and the US are involved in training programs conducted in Saudi Arabia.

During the 1980s and 1990s, by Middle Eastern standards the armed forces of Saudi Arabia were relatively small. Its strength however was derived from advanced technology. The backbone of the strike / ground attack force is formed by ca 70 Tornados (a second batch of 48 Tornado IDS were ordered in 1993 under the al-Yamamah II program), and 72 F-15S aircraft delivered from the mid-1990s that operate beside the remnants of more than 120 F-15C/D aircraft delivered starting in 1981. Pilot training is executed on the Pilatus PC-21 and BAe Hawk. The C-130 Hercules is the mainstay of the transport fleet and the Hercules is assisted by CN-235s and Raytheon King Air 350 light transports. Reconnaissance is performed by Tornadoes and F-15s equipped with the DJRP electro-optical reconnaissance pod. The Boeing E-3A is the Airborne Early Warning platform operated by No. 18 Squadron RSAF.

The VIP support fleet consists of a wide variety of civil registered aircraft such as the Airbus A330, Airbus A320, 737 and 747, Lockheed Tri-Stars, MD11s and G1159A as well as Lockheed L-100-30. The HZ- prefix used in the civilian registrations of these aircraft derived from the former name of the territory (Hejaz).

From 1989 to 1991 three Lockheed C-130 Hercules of the RSAF were destroyed in accidents.

Purchases during the 2000s

The Al Yamamah contract was controversial because of the alleged bribes associated with its award. Nonetheless, the RSAF announced its intention to purchase the Typhoon from BAE Systems in December 2005. On 18 August 2006, a memorandum of understanding was signed for 72 aircraft in a GB£6–10 billion deal.[6]

Following this order, the investigation of the Al Yamamah contract was suppressed by the British prime minister Tony Blair in December 2006, citing "strategic interests" of the UK. On 17 September 2007 Saudi Arabia announced it had signed a £4.4bn deal with BAE Systems for 72 Typhoons.[7]

On 29 December 2011, the United States signed a $29.4 billion deal to sell 84 F-15s in the SA (Saudi Advanced) configuration. The sale includes upgrades for the older F-15s up to the SA standard and related equipment and services.[8]

On 23 May 2012, the British defence firm BAE Systems agreed to sell 22 BAE Hawk advanced jet trainer aircraft to the Royal Saudi Air Force for a total of £1.9 billion ($3 billion). The deal also included simulators, ground and training equipment and spares.[9] In April 2013, BAE Systems delivered the first two new Typhoons of 24 to Saudi Arabia.

In 2013, the USAF tendered an offer for security services to protect the Saudi air force from cyberwarfare attacks.[10]

In March 2021, RSAF started a joint military exercise, that will last until April 10, with the US and Pakistani Air Forces that will help in exchanging experiences and expertise.[11]

A Royal Saudi Air Force pilot adjusts his oxygen mask in an F-5 Tiger II prior to flying a training mission in 1983.

Aircraft previously used by the RSAF

Previous aircraft flown by the Royal Saudi Air Force included the F-86F Sabre, dH 100 Vampire FB.52, BAC Strikemaster Mk 80, DHC-1 Chipmunk Mk 10, C-54A Skymaster, C-123B Provider, T-6A Texan, T-33A Shooting Star, Cessna 310, O-1 Bird Dog, T-35A Buckaroo, T-34A Mentor, OH-58A Kiowa, T-28A Trojan, F-5 Tiger II, Lockheed JetStar, dH Comet 4C (VIP transport), BAe 146, Alouette III,[citation needed] BAC Lightning F.52, F53 and T.55

Saudi–led intervention in Yemen

Various groups have accused Saudi-led coalition fighting the Houthis in Yemen of human rights violations and some have gone as far as accusing the coalition of war crimes.[12] The majority of these accusations stem from airstrikes undertaken by the coalition.[13] In February 2016 the Secretary-General of the UN (UNSG) Ban Ki-moon raised strong concerns over continued Saudi-led airstrikes, saying that "coalition air strikes in particular continue to strike hospitals, schools, mosques and civilian infrastructures" in Yemen.[14] On 28 December 2021, The Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for Yemen, Hans Grundberg, raised an alarm about the safety of civilians in the war-torn Yemen given the escalating violence, including airstrikes carried out by the Saudi-led coalition. According to his statement, airstrikes on Sanaa resulted in loss of civilian lives, and damage to the country’s infrastructure. He also underlined that violations of international humanitarian and human rights law cannot continue with impunity.[15]

A June 2022 report by The Washington Post and the Security Force Monitor at Columbia Law School's Human Rights Institute stated that a "substantial portion" of airstrikes by the Saudi-led campaign were "carried out by jets developed, maintained and sold by U.S. companies, and by pilots who were trained by the US military". According to ACLED, airstrikes by the Saudi-led coalition had killed 24,000 people, including 9,000 civilians.[16]


The RSAF is divided into nine Wings that are dispersed across seven Air Bases:


RSAF Roundel on the side of a Lightning Aircraft
RSAF Boeing E-3A Sentry
  • 1 Squadron (Royal Flight/BBJ&HS125)
  • 2 Squadron (F-15C And F-15D) - previously English Electric Lightning at Tabuk, up until at least 1985.[18]
  • 3 Squadron (Eurofighter Typhoon)[19]
  • 4 Squadron (C-130)
  • 5 Squadron (F-15C And F-15D)
  • 6 Squadron (F-15SA)
  • 7 Squadron (Tornado IDS)
  • 8 Squadron (Cirrus SR22)
  • 9 Squadron (PC-21)
  • 10 Squadron (Eurofighter Typhoon)[19]
  • 11 Squadron (Royal Flight/G-IV&CE550)
  • 12 Squadron (Bell 212)
  • 13 Squadron (F-15C And F-15D) - previously English Electric Lightning.[18]
  • 14 Squadron (Helicopters)
  • 15 Squadron (OUT SERVICE)
  • 16 Squadron (C-130)
  • 18 Squadron (E-3)
  • 19 Squadron (RE-3A)
  • 21 Squadron (BAE Hawk)
  • 22 Squadron (PC-21)
  • 23 Squadron (KE-3)
  • 24 Squadron (A330 MRTT)[20]
  • 25 Squadron (Bell 412)
  • 29 Squadron (Tornado ADV to be replaced with the F-15SA)
  • 30 Squadron (Helicopters)
  • 32 Squadron (KC-130H And KC-130J)
  • 33 Squadron (Royal Medical Flight)
  • 34 Squadron (F-15C And F-15D)
  • 35 Squadron (Jetstream)
  • 37 Squadron (BAE HAWK)
  • 42 Squadron (F-15C AND F-15D)
  • 44 Squadron (Bell 412)
  • 55 Squadron (F-15SA)
  • 66 Squadron (Tornado IDS)
  • 75 Squadron (Tornado IDS)
  • 79 Squadron (BAE Hawk)
  • 80 Squadron (Eurofighter Typhoon)[21]
  • 83 Squadron (Tornado IDS)
  • 88 Squadron (Hawk)
  • 92 Squadron (F-15S)[20]
  • 99 Squadron (Cougar)


A Typhoon fighter near Malta International
A Saudi Air Force C-130H departing East Midlands
A BAE Hawk from the Saudi Hawks display team
A Boeing RE-3A of the Royal Saudi Air Force


Aircraft Origin Type Variant In service Notes
Combat Aircraft
Eurofighter Typhoon UK / Germany / Italy / Spain multirole 72[22] 48 on order[23]
Panavia Tornado Italy / UK / Germany multirole IDS 81[22] employs variable-sweep wing design
F-15 Eagle United States multirole F-15C/S/SA 211[22]
F-15 Eagle United States conversion trainer F-15D 21[22]
E-3 Sentry United States AEW&C E/RE -3A 6[22] one used for SIGINT / ELINT missions
Saab 2000 Sweden AEW&C 2000 AEW&C 2[22]
Boeing KC-707 United States aerial refueling KE-3A 7[22]
KC-130 Hercules United States aerial refueling / transport KC-130H/J 7/2 3 J variants on order[24]
Airbus A330 MRTT France aerial refueling / transport KC-30A 6[22]
Gulfstream IV United States VIP transport 2[22]
BAE Jetstream United Kingdom VIP transport 31 1[22]
Cessna Citation II United States VIP transport Bravo 4[22]
Super King Air United States transport 350 9 5 used for reconnaissance – 4 on order[22]
C-130 Hercules United States tactical airlift C-130H/J 33 20 J variants on order[22]
Bell 212 United States utility 24[25]
Bell 412 United States utility 16[25]
UH-60 Black Hawk United States utility UH-60L 2[22]
Eurocopter AS332 France utility / SAR 13[22]
Trainer aircraft
BAE Hawk United Kingdom advanced trainer 65/A 69 12 on order[22]
Pilatus PC-21 Switzerland advanced trainer 55[22]
Cirrus SR22 United States light trainer 25[22]
PAC MFI-17 Mushshak Pakistan primary trainer 20[22]


The following officers have been commanders of the RSAF:

  1. Captain Abdullah al-Mandili
  2. Major Rashid al-Saleh
  3. Major Gen. Ibrahim al-Tassan (1950–1966)
  4. Major Gen. Hashim bin Said Hashim (1966–1972)
  5. Lt. Gen. Asaad al-Zuhair (1972–1980)
  6. Lt. Gen. Mohammed Sabri Suleiman (1980–1984)
  7. Lt. Gen. Abdullah bin AbdulAziz al-Hamdan (1984–1987)
  8. Lt. Gen. Ahmed Ibrahim Behery (1987 – March 1996)
  9. Lt. Gen. Abdul Aziz bin Mohammad Al-Henadi (March 1996 – 4 April 2004)
  10. Lt. Gen. Prince Abdulrahman Al-Faisal (4 April 2004 – 16 June 2010)[26]
  11. Lt. Gen. Mohammed Al-Ayesh (16 June 2010 – 10 May 2013)[27][citation needed]
  12. Lt. Gen. Fayyadh Al Ruwaili (10 May 2013 – 14 May 2014)[27][28]
  13. Lt. Gen. Muhammad Al Shaalan (14 May 2014 – 10 June 2015)[29]
  14. Major Gen. Mohammed al-Otaibi (10 June 2015 – 26 February 2018)[30][31][32]
  15. Lt. Gen. Turki bin Bandar (26 February 2018 – present)[31]

See also


  1. ^ David Fromkin (2010). A Peace to End All Peace: The Fall of the Ottoman Empire and the Creation of the Modern Middle East. Macmillan. ISBN 978-0-8050-8809-0.
  2. ^ IISS (2021). The Military Balance 2021. Routledge. p. 363. ISBN 978-1-032-01227-8.
  3. ^ "Saudis launches offensive against Yemen rebels". Associated Press. 5 November 2009. Archived from the original on 6 November 2009. Retrieved 26 March 2017.
  4. ^ Reader, Bullard; Hodgkin, E. C. (1993). Two Kings in Arabia: Letters from Jeddah, 1923-5 and 1936-9. Reading: Ithaca Press. p. 101. ISBN 978-0-86372-167-0.
  5. ^ al-Mutawiya, Khaled (2015). "المملكة-اليوم" [The Kingdom Today]. Retrieved 11 September 2019.
  6. ^ "Saudi Arabia orders Eurofighter Typhoons in up to 10 bln stg package - report -". Forbes. 22 December 2005. Archived from the original on 10 October 2008. Retrieved 18 July 2015.
  7. ^ "Business | Saudis buy Eurofighters from UK". BBC News. 17 September 2007. Retrieved 18 July 2015.
  8. ^ Wolf, Jim (29 December 2011). "U.S. Saudi fighter jet sale to help offset Iran". Reuters. Archived from the original on 24 September 2015. Retrieved 18 July 2015.
  9. ^ "BAE Systems and Saudi Arabia sign £1.9bn Hawk jet deal – BBC News". BBC News. 23 May 2012. Archived from the original on 12 March 2017. Retrieved 18 July 2015.
  10. ^ Reed, John (18 March 2013). "The Saudi air force wants to protect its newest planes from cyber attack". Archived from the original on 4 July 2013. Retrieved 18 March 2013.
  11. ^ "Saudi Air Force begins joint exercise with US and Pakistani forces". Arab News. 31 March 2021. Retrieved 31 March 2021.
  12. ^ "365 Days of War in Yemen". Amnesty International. 24 March 2016. Retrieved 17 April 2016.
  13. ^ "Joint statement: Fanning the flames of the Yemen Conflict" (Press release). Human Rights Watch. Retrieved 22 April 2016.
  14. ^ "Secretary-General's address at event co-organized by the United Nations Association of the United Kingdom and Chatham House". (UNSG Ban Ki-moon). 5 February 2016. Archived from the original on 8 February 2016.
  15. ^ "Escalation in Yemen 'worst in years' – UN top envoy". United Nation. 28 December 2021. Retrieved 28 December 2021.
  16. ^ Lee, Joyce Sohyun; Kelly, Meg; Mirza, Atthar (4 June 2022). "Saudi-led airstrikes in Yemen have been called war crimes. Many relied on U.S. support". The Washington Post.
  17. ^ a b c Scramble: Saudi Arabia, accessed August 2020.
  18. ^ a b Orbis, "Warplane" partwork, Issue 20 (1985), p388.
  19. ^ a b AirForces Monthly. Stamford, Lincolnshire, England: Key Publishing Ltd. February 2016. p. 74.
  20. ^ a b AirForces Monthly. Stamford, Lincolnshire, England: Key Publishing Ltd. April 2016. p. 9.
  21. ^ AirForces Monthly. Stamford, Lincolnshire, England: Key Publishing Ltd. August 2015. p. 4.
  22. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s "World Air Forces 2022". Flightglobal. 2022. Retrieved 22 March 2022.
  23. ^ "Saudi Arabia could order 48 additional Eurofighter Typhoon multirole fighters soon". The Aviation Geek Club. 11 March 2018. Retrieved 6 December 2021.
  24. ^ "World Air Forces 2022". Flightglobal. 2022. Retrieved 22 March 2022.
  25. ^ a b "World Air forces 2004 pg. 83". Flightglobal Insight. 2017. Retrieved 20 June 2017.
  26. ^ "King Fahd appoints Commander of Air Force – SAMIRAD (Saudi Arabia Market Information Resource)". 5 April 2004. Archived from the original on 5 March 2010. Retrieved 18 July 2015.
  27. ^ a b Mystery surrounds death of Saudi chief of staff Archived 3 February 2017 at the Wayback Machine. Arabian Aerospace. Published 25 June 2015. Retrieved 14 May 2017.
  28. ^ Saudi Lt-General Fayyadh Al-Ruwaili, new RSAF Commander Archived 10 February 2018 at the Wayback Machine. Tactical Report. Published 13 May 2013. Retrieved 14 May 2017.
  29. ^ "Saudi Lt-General Mohammad Al-Shaalan, new RSAF Commander". 28 July 2010. Archived from the original on 26 June 2015. Retrieved 18 July 2015.
  30. ^ Boeing F15-SA Fighter Jet Joins Royal Saudi Air Force Fleet Archived 28 January 2017 at the Wayback Machine. Defense World. Published 25 January 2017. Retrieved 14 May 2017.
  31. ^ a b O'Connor, Tom (26 February 2018). Saudi Arabia Changes Government Up, Switching Top Military Leader Amid Yemen War Struggle Archived 27 February 2018 at the Wayback Machine. Newsweek. Retrieved 27 February 2018.
  32. ^ Saudi Major-General Al-Ghamdi, Acting RSAF Commander Archived 22 May 2017 at the Wayback Machine. Published 24 June 2015. Retrieved 14 May 2017.

External links

  • Official website
  • Order of Battle at Scramble magazine
  • "The Royal Saudi Air Force – A Paper Tiger, Minus the Tiger"
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