Royal Saudi Air Force

Royal Saudi Air Force
Founded 1920 (1920)
Country  Saudi Arabia
Allegiance Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques
Type Military aviation
Role Aerial warfare
Size 63,000 full-time personnel
18,000 reservists
Part of

KSA Department of Defense (1934–present)

Saudi Arabian Armed Forces (1950–present)
Headquarters Ministry of Defence, Riyadh
Chief of Air Staff Major General Muhammad ibn Saleh al-Otaybi [2]
Aircraft flown
Attack Eurofighter Typhoon
Panavia Tornado IDS
Bomber Boeing F-15S
Panavia Tornado IDS
Boeing RE-3A
Boeing E-3A
Fighter Eurofighter Typhoon
Boeing F-15C/S
Interceptor Eurofighter Typhoon
Boeing F-15C/S
Reconnaissance Northrop RF-5E
Panavia Tornado IDS
Trainer Pilatus PC-9A
BAE Hawk
Transport Lockheed C-130

The Royal Saudi Air Force (RSAF; Arabic: القوات الجوية الملكية الـسعودية, al-quwwāt al-ğawwiyyah al-malakiyyah as-suʿūdiyyah), is the aviation branch of the Saudi Arabian armed forces. The RSAF has developed from a largely defensive military force into one with an advanced offensive capability. The RSAF maintains the third largest fleet of F-15s after the American 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 72 Eurofighter Typhoons delivered by BAE.


The RSAF was formed in the mid-1920s with British assistance. 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.

The Saudi forces are equipped with mainly western hardware. Main suppliers are companies in the United Kingdom and the United States of America. Both the UK and the US are involved in training programs conducted in Saudi Arabia.

Derelict RSAF T-28A Trojan, one of four acquired in the 1950s, at King Abdulaziz University
RSAF Roundel on the side of a Lightning Aircraft

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 fighter force is formed by 134 Tornados from which a 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 more than 120 F-15C/D aircraft delivered starting in 1981. Aircraft training is executed on the Pilatus PC-9, BAe Hawk, Boeing F-15D Eagle and the Northrop F-5F Tiger II. The C-130 Hercules is the mainstay of the transport fleet and the Hercules is assisted by CASA CN-235s. Reconnaissance is performed by 17 Squadron with its RF-5E and the Boeing E-3A is the Airborne Early Warning platform operated by 18 Squadron.

The VIP support fleet consists of a wide variety of civil registered aircraft such as the Boeing 707, 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)

Recent purchases

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.[3]

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.[4]

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.[5]

On 23 May 2012, British defence firm BAE Systems is 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 includes simulators, ground and training equipment and spares.[6]

On April 2013, British defence firm BAE Systems delivers the first two new Typhoons of 24 to Saudi Arabia.

In 2013, the USAF tendered for security services to protect the Saudi air force from Cyberwarfare.[7]



The RSAF units are divided into Wings that are dispersed across the seven air bases:

Units of the RSAF

RSAF F-15C Eagle about to refuel from a KC-135 over the Persian Gulf
RSAF Boeing E-3A Sentry
RSAF Lockheed C-130H Hercules

Current aircraft inventory

On 11 August 2011, The Saudi Royal Air Force received 48 Typhoons from British Royal Air Force (Taif Airbase). On 12 August 2009, UPI reported that Saudi Arabia was seeking upgrades for their E-3 fleet and aerial refuelling tanker aircraft.[11]

In October 2010, an interest for a 60 billion USD defense procurement package from the US was unveiled. It consisted of $29.4 billion for 84 F-15SA fighters, upgrade of the existing F-15S to the same standard, parts and munitions as well as another 30 billion for 72 UH-60M, 36 AH-6I, 36 AH-64D, 12 MD530 helicopters and parts. The helicopter request is for the Saudi Arabian Army.[12]

Aircraft Origin Role Version Quantity Note
Fighter aircraft
McDonnell Douglas F-15E Strike EagleUnited StatesStrike fighterSA
84 on order
70 S variant to be upgraded to SA standard.[13][14]
McDonnell Douglas F-15C EagleUnited States Fighter C
Eurofighter TyphoonEuropean Union Multirole fighter T.2
64 delivered. 72 on order, all will be manufactured by BAE Warton facility, instead of planned final assembly line in Saudi Arabia.[16] A further 72 may be up.[17]
Panavia Tornado IDSEuropean Union Ground attack 80 Being upgraded at a cost of $4.66 billion.
Trainer aircraft
BAe HawkUnited Kingdom Advanced trainer Mk. 65
Mk. 65A
29 22 Hawk AJT on order, delivery planned in 2016.
BAe JetstreamUnited Kingdom Trainer 31 1 2 delivered, S/n 2102 crashed near Dhahran 14 October 1989, killing all 5 on board[18]
Raytheon King Air 350United States Special Mission / Electronic Warfare 6 3 on order
Super MushshaaqPakistan Trainer 20
Pilatus PC-9Switzerland Trainer 47
Pilatus PC-21Switzerland Trainer 40 55 on order for 2014
Cirrus SR22United StatesTrainer 24 replaced The Reims Cessna F172s
Transport / Special mission
Airbus A340France Transport A340-213 1 Royal Flight
Airbus A330 MRTTEuropean Union Transport & refuelling MRTT 6[19]
BAe 125United Kingdom Transport B 4 Royal Flight
Boeing 747United States VIP Transport 747-300
2 Royal Flight, 747-300 from Saudi Arabian Airlines
Boeing 757United StatesMedical Transport 1
Boeing 737United States Transport BBJ1
Royal Flight
Saab 2000 AEW&CSweden airborne early warning and control 2
Boeing E-3 SentryUnited States AWACS
Airborne Refuelling
E-3A seeking upgrades
Being upgraded & then replaced by A330 MRRT, 3 converted to RE-3A reconnaissance aircraft.[20]
Antonov An-132 Ukraine Electronic warfare 0 2 on order, a further 98 on order in multiple variants, to be build in Saudi Arabia under license
Antonov An-148 Ukraine Medical Transport 0 4 on order
Antonov An-178 Ukraine Surveillance and reconnasissance / Transport 0 30 on order
CASA CN-235Spain Transport M-10 4 Royal Flight
Cessna 550 Citation BravoUnited States Transport C550 4 Royal Flight
Gates Learjet 35United States Transport A 2 Both transferred to the Royal Saudi Armed Forces Medical Wing in July 2009
Gulfstream IIIUnited States Transport 2
Gulfstream IVUnited States Transport 1
Gulfstream VUnited States Medical Transport 2
Lockheed C-130 HerculesUnited States Transport
Airborne refuelling
VIP transport
Lockheed Martin C-130J Super HerculesUnited States Transport
Airborne Refuelling




20 on order.[21]

3 on order.[21]

Lockheed L-100 HerculesUnited States Transport L-100-30 6
McDonnell Douglas MD-11United States Transport MD-11 1 Royal Flight
Transport / Attack helicopters
Agusta-Bell 212United States/Italy Transport helicopter 27
Agusta-Sikorsky AS-61Italy Transport helicopter A-4 3 Royal Flight
Bell 205United States Transport Helicopter 24
Bell 212 / Bell 412United States Transport helicopter EP 37
Eurocopter AS532 CougarFrance Combat search and rescue M 12
Eurocopter AS365 DauphinFrance Naval helicopter
Medical helicopter
24 The SA-365F variants are operated by Royal Saudi Naval Aviation.
Eurocopter AS332 Super PumaFrance Naval helicopter F 13 Operated by Royal Saudi Naval Aviation.


The following officers have been commanders of the RSAF:

See also


  1. Archived 6 November 2009 at the Wayback Machine.
  3. "Saudi Arabia orders Eurofighter Typhoons in up to 10 bln stg package - report -". 2005-12-22. Archived from the original on 10 October 2008. Retrieved 2015-07-18.
  4. "Business | Saudis buy Eurofighters from UK". BBC News. 2007-09-17. Retrieved 2015-07-18.
  5. Wolf, Jim (2011-12-29). "U.S. Saudi fighter jet sale to help offset Iran". Reuters. Retrieved 2015-07-18.
  6. "BAE Systems and Saudi Arabia sign £1.9bn Hawk jet deal - BBC News". Retrieved 2015-07-18.
  7. Reed, John (18 March 2013). "The Saudi air force wants to protect its newest planes from cyber attack". Retrieved 18 March 2013.
  8. 1 2 AirForces Monthly. Stamford, Lincolnshire, England: Key Publishing Ltd. February 2016. p. 74.
  9. 1 2 AirForces Monthly. Stamford, Lincolnshire, England: Key Publishing Ltd. April 2016. p. 9.
  10. AirForces Monthly. Stamford, Lincolnshire, England: Key Publishing Ltd. August 2015. p. 4.
  11. "Saudis seek upgrade of E-3 AWACS, tankers". Retrieved 25 December 2014.
  12. "Riyadh requests $25.6bn worth of US helicopters". Retrieved 2010-10-31.
  13. "U.S., Saudi Arabia Finalize F-15 Fighter Deal". Retrieved 2015-07-18.
  14. " Contracts for Tuesday, June 26, 2012". Retrieved 25 December 2014.
  15. Air Forces Monthly - February 2013 pg32 accessed 18 January 2013
  16. "UPDATE 1-BAE Systems signs Saudi-Eurofighter deal". Reuters. 3 April 2012. Retrieved 2012-05-22.
  17. "2 Iranian Fighters Reported Downed By Saudi Air Force". 6 June 1984. Retrieved 25 December 2014.
  18. "Accident description". Retrieved 6 November 2014.
  19. "Paris Air Show 2015: Saudis take delivery of final MRTT". IHS Jane's Defence Weekly. IHS Jane. Retrieved 20 June 2015.
  20. "Boeing 707". Retrieved 2012-05-22.
  21. 1 2 Air Forces Monthly. Stamford, Lincolnshire: Key Publishing. January 2013. p. 24.
  22. "King Fahd appoints Commander of Air Force - SAMIRAD (Saudi Arabia Market Information Resource)". 2004-04-05. Retrieved 2015-07-18.
  23. "Saudi Lt-General Mohammad Al-Shaalan, new RSAF Commander". Retrieved 2015-07-18.
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