Yet another Saudi fighter-jet crashes

Thursday, January 22, 2004

ABU DHABI A Saudi F-15 fighter-jet has crashed into an air force base in the eastern part of the kingdom.

Since 1999, the Royal Saudi Air Force has sustained about a dozen aircraft crashes during training flights, five of them in 1999 and 2000 alone. At the time, Saudi sources said the accidents stemmed from an effort to introduce more aggressive combat tactics in the air force.

The crash took place during a routine training flight in the Eastern Province on Wednesday, Saudi sources said. They said the pilot and navigator were killed when the F-15 crashed into a building in the military base.

An Egyptian national employed in a cafeteria in the building was also killed in the crash, Middle East Newsline reported. About 500 air force cadets had been on a tour of the base when the F-15 crashed.

Western defense analysts said the Saudi history of accidents stems from a deterioration of the Saudi F-15 fleet amid a failure to provide the aircraft with proper maintenance. They said Saudi Arabia has failed to modernize training to support missions required for the defense of the kingdom and coordination with regional allies and the United States.

"A lack of overall readiness, and poor aircrew and maintenance to aircraft ratios, which has forced the near- grounding of its F-5s, and has severely reduced the effectiveness of its F-15s and Tornados," a 2002 report by the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) said.

"The training of F-15 aircrews in the attack role was weak to the point where it presented serious safety problems in advanced mission profiles and had led to a number of fatal accidents."

The F-15 in the Jan. 21 crash was not further identified and witnesses said the aircraft crashed moments after takeoff. Saudi Arabia has about 150 F-15s, including the advanced F-15S procured in 1995 from the United States.

The Saudi Defense Ministry, in an announcement released four hours after the accident, said the F-15 took off on a flight from the King Abdul Aziz Air Base at Dhahran. Saudi Defense Minister Prince Sultan Bin Abdul Aziz is responsible for the air force.

The Defense Ministry said the air force was investigating the crash. An initial report asserted that a technical fault was found in one of the wings of the F-15.

The CSIS report said Saudi Arabia has been unable to use its Hawk air trainer fleet. The aircraft cannot reach supersonic speeds or prepare pilots for the mission profiles required for the F-15. It said the F-15 could not be used for air defense because of the poor training of Saudi pilots.

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