ABU DHABI Ñ Saudi Arabia has decided to develop a key air force base
near the Israeli border.
The Saudi Defense Ministry has launched a project to develop and expand
the King Faisal Air Base in Tabuk. The base contains about 50
advanced F-15S fighter-jets, which were sent to the northwestern facility on
the eve of the U.S.-led war against Iraq in March 2003.
The United States has raised the issue with the kingdom, which
has refused to move the U.S.-origin aircraft. Under a 1978 agreement for the
first F-15s to Riyad, Saudi Arabia pledged not to deploy the aircraft in
Israel has warned the United States that the F-15S presence at Tabuk
could be used by Al Qaida agents within the Saudi military to attack the
Jewish state, Middle East Newsline reported.
Officials said support facilities at the air force base will be expanded
and improved. They did not say whether this would include maintenance and
logistics facilities for the F-15S fleet.
Defense Minister Prince Sultan Bin Abdul Aziz has launched several
projects to improve Tabuk military facilities during his current tour of
Saudi bases. The minister opened expanded mess facilities that can feed 700
soldiers at a time.
Officials said the project cost 23.5 million riyal, about $6 million.
The military's corp of engineers completed the expansion over a period of 10
months. Sultan said his ministry would open several technical military
institutes in Tabuk and nearby regions over the next five years.
The expansion of Saudi air force facilities in Tabuk also included the
launch of a military hospital. The plan includes the construction of 360
housing units for hospital and military staff. Officials said the housing
was meant to accommodate the arrival of military personnel transferred from
other regions of the kingdom.
Another project was to establish new facilities for Islamic worship in
launched in cooperation with the Islamic Affairs Ministry. The Defense
plans to build a prayer hall of 25,000 square meters to accommodate 4,500
Western diplomatic sources said the project at Tabuk could signal Saudi
intentions to maintain deployment of most or all of the F-15S fleet over the
long term. Earlier, the Saudi Air Force was expected to return most of the
F-15S fleet, ordered in 1995, because of a shortage of maintenance and
logistics facilities at King Abdul Aziz Military City and King Faisal Air
Maj. Gen. Mohammed Bin Suleiman Al Sidais, the commander of the King
Faisal Air Base, told a gathering on Wednesday during the visit by Sultan
that the facility has grown rapidly over the last year. Al Sidais that the
number of fighter-jets at the base grew by 200 percent in wake of the
arrival of an F-15 squadron. In all, the base contains six squadrons of