Saudi Arabia and NATO learning to work together

Despite a relationship that has been strained following Saudi Arabia’s involvement in the bloody conflict in Yemen, the Royal Saudi Air Force (RSAF) has continued to exercise with the United States Air Force (USAF) and, more recently, with other NATO air forces.

RSAF F-15C Eagles
Eagle on patrol: RSAF F-15C Eagles have taken part in Falcon Eye exercises with the Hellenic Air Force, as well as and Red Flags in the US. Picture: RSAF.

RSAF Typhoon and F-15S Eagle aircrews have participated in eight consecutive Red Flag advanced aerial combat training exercises hosted at Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada.

Aircrew from the US Air Force, Navy, Marine Corps and Army, and numerous NATO or other allied nations’ air forces, take part in one of several Red Flag exercises each year.

In June 2020, RSAF F-15SA Eagles from the 6th Squadron, King Khalid Airbase, took part in integrated sorties with USAF F-15Cs and KC-135 Stratotankers, which allowed the US and Saudi pilots to familiarise themselves with communications and mission planning procedures. It also allowed them to maintain readiness for longer mission capabilities in the region.

More recently, after months of preparation, joint training exercise Falcon Eye 3 began in Greece in the second week of November 2022. For the third in a series of bilateral exercises with the Hellenic Air Force (HAF), the RSAF deployed F-15C/D Eagles from Taïf/King Fahd Airbase to the 115th Fighter Wing based at Souda Airbase, a large facility on the west side of Crete, Greece’s largest island in the Mediterranean.

Falcon Eye 3 began with ground studies to unify the exercise’s concept among aircrew from both air forces, followed by joint flights in the eastern Mediterranean skies.

Under the leadership of Colonel Khalifa Al-Enezi, the Saudi contingent deployed with all its air, technical, and support crews for a few weeks.

During the exercise, different types of missions in Greek and international airspace, against various types of aircraft, were flown. To achieve this, HAF F-4E Phantom and Mirage 2000 fighter aircraft were flown from different air bases in a variety of roles, as friendly as well as opposing forces at times, to enhance the training value of the exercise.

In May 2021, the HAF and RSAF had held the Falcon Eye 2 exercise at the King Faisal Airbase, in the northern sector of Saudi Arabia. Joint sorties by RSAF F-15C and HAF F-16 aircraft took part in the exercise.

Other joint air exercises with Saudi and NATO air crews are planned for 2023.

David Oliver

David Oliver

David has been a photojournalist for more than 40 years specialising in aerospace and defence.