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Why the SANG will soon be on song

Posted 26 June 2017 · Add Comment

Building a 156-strong rotary-wing fleet is a part of the Saudi Arabian National Guard's modernisation effort, which fits into the country's 2030 modernisation plan. David Oliver reports.

The Saudi Arabian National Guard (SANG) is one of the three major branches of the country’s armed forces.
With more than 200,000 personnel, the force is under the administrative control of the Ministry of the National Guard, rather than the Ministry of Defence and Aviation.
The current minister is Prince Miteb bin Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, who was appointed in 2013.
The SANG differs from the regular Saudi army as it is forged out of tribal elements loyal to the House of Saud. It is responsible for internal security roles, as well as the protection of vital government installations and oilfields.
At its inception in 1917, the guard was 30,000 strong. Modernisation began 44 years ago with help from the US Army in a train, advise, assist and modernise role. The SANG now involves civilians, military personnel and local hires, such as interpreters.
Northrop Grumman and a Saudi company provide contract trainers to the SANG. They are embedded in the units all the way down to battalion and, in some instances, company level.
Under a plan conceived by the Saudi royal family eight years ago, the Ministry of the National Guard is creating a comprehensive helicopter capability, including the introduction and deployment of four different types.
The first of three SANG operational aviation brigades is set to become fully operational later this year.
Major General Frank Muth, from the US Army Office of the Program Manager (OPM) SANG, said that 24 Sikorsky UH-60M Black Hawks and 12 Boeing AH-64E Apache Guardian helicopters had already been already delivered to Saudi Arabia.
Speaking at the recent International Military Helicopter conference in London, he added that the planned arrival of the first 12 of 24 AH-6is in May, some nine months after the type was formally accepted by the service, would mean that the 1st Aviation Brigade would be fully stood up at Khashm Al An Airfield, near Riyadh.
This new airfield, built at a cost of $200 million, has a 2.1km runway, four HQ buildings, barracks, dining facilities, motor pools, sports fields and a mosque.
Sikorsky was awarded a $30.5 million foreign military sales (FMS) contract on August 19 2014 by the US Army Contracting Command for 12 UH-60M Black Hawks for SANG. Ten days later, Boeing was awarded a $234.7 million contract for 24 AH-6i light attack helicopters. That deal included an initial spares package and ground-support equipment.
Saudi Arabia is the initial export customer for the AH-6i, which first flew on September 16 2009. The aircraft has an historic growth path that dates back to the original Hughes OH-6 Cayuse, which flew in 1963, although there is little in common between the two other than the characteristic shape.
Powered by an 850shp (634 KW) Rolls-Royce 250-C30R/3M turboshaft engine, the AH-6i has a new six-bladed main rotor and a canted four-bladed tail rotor, offering improved hot-and-high performance, extra payload and additional internal fuel for three-hour endurance.
With an integrated digital cockpit leveraging AH-64E Apache software, the AH-6i features full-colour multifunction displays, integrated digital map, military qualified/commercial-off-the-shelf avionics, armoured crash-resistant pilot seats, and a night vision goggle (NVG) compatible cockpit.
The aircraft will be equipped with the L-3 Wescam MX-15Di HD multi-sensor electro-optical/infrared (EO/IR) system and an armament package that includes the M134 minigun or Gau-19 machine gun, APKWS guided rockets and Hellfire missiles.
The first of the AH-6is for the SANG was in pre-flight testing in June 2016 at Boeing’s Mesa production facility.
The company sub-contracted the green airframe manufacturing to MD Helicopters, which builds them at its Monterrey facility in Mexico.
Systems assembly and integration is carried out by Boeing, with the last of the 24 helicopters arriving at Mesa in February 2017.
Boeing undertook the training of an initial cadre of US flight instructors for the US Army OPM-SANG, with the Saudi students arriving at Mesa in September 2016. The company expects to rotate seven Saudi pilots through Mesa for 12 months at a time.
“The SANG as an aviation force didn’t exist eight years ago and, as of 18 months ago, it had no operational aircraft. The 12 MD 530F training helicopters were delivered in 2013,” explained Muth.
The MD 530Fs, built by MD Helicopters, are also based on the Hughes/McDonnell Douglas OH-6 Cayuse. They are powered by a similar engine to the AH-6i and differ only in having a five-blade main rotor, a two-blade tail rotor and a smaller cabin.
The MD 530F is capable or carrying weapons and is in service with the air forces of Jordan and Afghanistan.  
Muth explained that this new force has had to be built entirely from scratch. “When building up the capability, it’s not just about the aircraft; it’s the people, it’s the training, it’s the life-cycle maintenance, it’s the facilities and all the rest,” he said.
The 1st Aviation Brigade, based at Khashm Al An Airfield, will be at full strength when it receives the initial 12 AH-6is in May.
The 2nd Aviation Brigade facility at Hofuf is expected to see construction start this year to be completed in 2019, while the 3rd Aviation Brigade base at Jeddah will commence in 2019 to be operational by 2021.
A fourth training brigade, equipped with MD 530F training helicopters, is also being established, with a $200 million aviation training centre of excellence expected to be completed by June 2018 at Dirab.
Each aviation brigade will comprise 24 UH-60Ms, split between two companies of assault and medevac/C2 helicopters; 12 AH-64E Apaches for attack/security; and 12 AH-6is for armed reconnaissance.
Only 24 AH-6is are currently under contract as part of the FMS process, so if all three brigades are to have an equal number of aircraft, further helicopters will need to be purchased before the 3rd Aviation Brigade is stood up in 2021/22.
While Boeing cannot disclose details of the contract, the company said the sale of additional aircraft was something it was discussing.
In February 2017, Muth received the go-ahead from the US Army Aviation Center of Excellence at Fort Rucker, Alabama, to conduct AH-64 Echo-model Apache and UH-60 Mike-model transitions into Saudi Arabia.
“This is a test case, a proof of principle, that they are going to look at for six months,” Muth said. Some 42 aviators providing training, assistance and modernisation efforts for the SANG will develop a training programme that covers the fleet. “We are training everything across the board from maintainers to refuellers to firefighters, not just pilots,” Muth said.
Individual training has involved slings, hoists, casualty evacuation (CASEVAC), forward-looking infrared (FLIR), night-Sun, and limited forward arming and refuelling procedures (FARP) operations.
In addition, there is aerial gunnery, multi-airframe combined live-fire and company task force mission readiness exercises, and initial air ground integration training.
The aviation training timeline for SANG officers and enlisted personnel is approximately 24 months and 15 months respectively.

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