Leadership: Why the Saudi Air Force Will Still Suck

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November 17, 2005: Saudi Arabia is out shopping for new warplanes. Since Saudi Arabia has the money to buy the best stuff out there, warplane manufacturers are swarming to the scene. The only aircraft the Saudis won't be able to get is the U.S. F-22. Too much top secret tech in that puppy. But there's plenty of other hot iron out there. However, there's one problem the Saudis are not discussing; training and leadership. The Royal Saudi Air Force has long been something of a very expensive joke to the thousands of Western technicians and managers who keep it running. The Saudis buy the best, but have consistently fallen down when it comes to getting capable and motivated Saudis to run the air force. Pilots are selected more for political and family connections, and loyalty to the monarchy, than ability, as are many of the support staff. As a result, the pilots have never developed much skill, and the ground crews are backed up (replaced, for all practical purposes), by thousands of expatriates from the United States, Britain and other countries. These foreigners are generally former military, and make big bucks keeping the Saudi aircraft airworthy. But the Saudi generals have not been willing to go the extra mile to recruit and train the most qualified Saudis to run the air force. The loyalty angle is important, especially in that part of the world. But they could at least screen for loyalty first, then ability, and leave family connections out. That, however, is not easy, as the Saudi royal family keeps it all together largely via good relationships with the more powerful clans and tribes in the kingdom. Giving up control over all those sexy air force jobs is asking a lot for a royal family that is locked in a death struggle with popular Islamic fanatics (who want to oust the royal family.) So the Saudis may get their hot new warplanes, but they will still have a third rate air force.

 


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