ABU DHABI ø 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.