BORDER SECURITY: Manning the borders

31 March 2006
Oil contractors out prospecting in the wastes of the southern Rub al-Khali say they routinely see camel trains or convoys of trucks pass by in the distance at night. Adjoining seven other countries and with 6,500 miles of empty territory to patrol, border security is a major headache for Saudi security forces. Drugs and contraband are one thing, but when weapons and people start filtering across the border, it becomes an issue of national security.
'Smuggling is a serious problem, particularly on the Iraqi and Yemeni borders - they caught some 2,500 smugglers on the Iraqi border last year,' says Saudi security adviser Nawaf Obaid. 'Sorting out a border security deal is one of their main priorities.'

The Saudi Interior Ministry was reported last year to have approved a major command, control, communications, computer and intelligence (C4I) technology deal with a consortium led by France's Thales as part of a project to secure its borders. Based on a 1990 feasibility study by Thomson CSF, the predecessor of Thales, Riyadh has been looking to implement an integrated C4I system with ongoing surveillance using patrol aircraft, unmanned aircraft and early warning systems on its borders. The Thales deal has yet to be officially signed, however, and further technology and security contracts are open to negotiation.

A C4I/battle management system is needed to replace the one the US withdrew from Prince Sultan Air Force Base near Riyadh after the 1990-91 Gulf war. In their 2005 assessment, National Security in Saudi Arabia, Obaid and Anthony Cordesman of the Washington-based Centre for Strategic & International Studies (CSIS) conclude: 'The Royal Saudi Air Force must ask itself why the Iraqi air force collapsed after a few days in 1991 and failed to fight in 2003. It must ask why the Syrian air force has become something of a military joke and why Israel has acquired such an edge.

'The answer is that effective C4I/ battle management and integration of the air force is the key to modern air warfare. Without it, military spending can only produce a third-rate or ineffective force'. Without the reform and integration of the various Saudi military and security outfits, expensive equipment such as the Eurofighter threaten to be little more than 'glitter purchases'.

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