Protecting the nation over the decades

Deputy Crown Prince and Defense Minister Prince Mohammed bin Salman with senior military officers during an inspection tour of the armed forces in Jazan. (SPA)

Deputy Crown Prince and Defense Minister Prince Mohammed bin Salman with senior military officers during an inspection tour of the armed forces in Jazan. (SPA)

Having just successfully completed Operation Decisive Storm, the country can look back with pride at how the army has developed into such an efficient fighting force over the past 92 years.

The founder of the nation King Abdul Aziz formed the army on Feb. 28, 1923. With a modest beginning of 60 soldiers, this soon became the first army in the Gulf region with 300,000 soldiers, ranking third in the Arab world and 28th internationally, according to Global Fire Power, the American research institution that specializes in analyzing security forces across the world.

The Saudi Army was in reality born when King Abdul Aziz formed a small force of 60 men and traveled from Kuwait to take over Riyadh. With 40 of them, he was able to recover what was to become the capital city on Saturday Jan. 14, 1902. By the end of the unification phase, King Abdul Aziz embarked on reorganizing the military garrisons, and in 1926 issued an order to establish a garrison in Jeddah.

In 1929, the king started to organize the army. He ordered the formation of sectors into regiments of infantry and artillery. In the same year, he formed the Department of Military Affairs to oversee the personnel of the statutory force. This department was headquartered in Makkah and affiliated with the Finance Agency at the time.

After this nascent army was formed, its units paraded in front of King Abdul Aziz in Jeddah in 1930. This executive and administrative apparatus was later converted into the various units to form a statutory army worthy of the status of the young Saudi state. On Thursday, Sept. 23, 1932, King Abdul Aziz issued a royal decree unifying the regions across the country under the name of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

When the number of statutory troops increased and administrative and organizational burdens surpassed the ability of the Department of Military Affairs, it was necessary to form a defense agency to support it in 1934. It was headquartered in the city of Taif, with Sheikh Abdullah bin Suleiman appointed as its head in addition to his duties as finance minister.

That was accompanied by restructuring the army units into infantry, artillery and cavalry. Regiments and brigades were formed and provided with the best weapons at the time, including machine guns and cannons, along with transport and radios. They were deployed throughout the Kingdom according to defense needs. A military school was established in the city of Taif in 1934 to train the military. However, it was subsequently closed because it was no longer needed.

With the unification of the Kingdom, military tasks became varied. In 1936, the military school in Taif, which became a center for training, was reopened. In 1939, the Department of Military Affairs was abolished and replaced by the Presidency of the General Staff of the Army associated with the Defense Agency. This presidency began to organize the army, standardize staff uniforms, and identify its distinctive emblems. In addition, the first armored division was formed, named the First Armored Division of the Army, and attached to the Royal Guard in Riyadh after the completion of training. After that the first cavalry contingent and first infantry regiment were formed.

Later, the Presidency of the General Staff of the Army was moved to Riyadh following the Defense Agency. As a result of the drastic expansion and increasing defense requirements, a royal decree was issued in November 1943 establishing the Ministry of Defense to replace the Defense Agency. The late Prince Mansour was appointed as the first minister.

Then experts were brought in to provide their expertise in various fields of training. Moreover, many employees of the Saudi Arabian Army were sent abroad to Arab and friendly countries for study and training. The first signal and radio school was also established, along with a medical and emergency school. This completed the first step toward the establishment of the Saudi Arabian Army Land Forces. Following the death of Prince Mansour on May 2, 1951, Prince Mishaal was appointed the minister of defense on May 12, 1951. Prince Fahd bin Saud took over as defense minister on Oct. 7, 1956, followed by Prince Mohammad bin Saud on Nov. 21, 1960.

The modern development of the Saudi armed forces started when royal decrees were issued on Oct. 31, 1962, appointing Prince Sultan as minister of defense and aviation and inspector general of the army. When its activities expanded, Prince Turki was appointed as deputy minister of defense and aviation and inspector general on July 25, 1969. In 1983, a royal order was issued to appoint Prince Abdulrahman as deputy minister.

To continue the evolution initiated by Crown Prince Sultan, orders were issued to change the name of the Saudi Arabian Army to the Royal Saudi Land Forces. Additionally, the Presidency of the General Staff of the Army was re-formed to become the General Staff of the Saudi Armed Forces. The land forces, based on the available capabilities of manpower, machinery and equipment and following the directives of the prince, became a strike force and the mainstay of the armed forces. After the death of Prince Sultan in November 2011, King Abdullah appointed then Crown Prince Salman as the minister of defense. In January this year, Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman appointed Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman as the new defense minister.

According to the latest assessment published by Global Fire Power, the Kingdom has 1,210 tanks, 5,472 armored vehicles, 524 automatic artillery, 432 cannons, and 322 multiple missile launchers. The Air Force has 155 interceptor fighters and 236 fixed-wing attack aircraft, 187 transport aircraft, 168 trainer aircraft and 200 helicopters. It also has a fleet of F-15s, Tornados and Eurofighter Typhoons. The Marine Corps consists of 55 ships, including seven frigates, with a plan to acquire submarines. It has nearly 16,000 personnel working on air defense systems, while 2,500 soldiers are responsible for strategic missiles.

Saudi Armed Foreces timeline


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