WASHINGTON --- The Saudi Arabian National Guard has enormous capacity, and the U.S. Army helps them develop that into powerful capability, said Maj. Gen. Frank Muth.
Some 130,000 personnel within the SANG are divided into 17 brigades, with assets that include both AH-64E Apache and UH-60D Black Hawk helicopters. The SANG also has 1,900 light armored vehicles, the largest LAV fleet in the world, said Muth, Office of the Program Manager-SANG, which falls under U.S. Army Materiel Command.
"One of our missions is taking that capacity, which is part of the foreign military sales process, and building capability. Otherwise, it's just sitting there in the motor pool collecting dust," said Muth, during a military conference in October.
Helping SANG develop capability to make use of that capacity are 130 U.S. Soldiers and a group of contractors. Muth said that in time he's been on board as the OPM-SANG, he's seen vast improvements in SANG's capability.
The U.S.'s advise, train and assist mission with the SANG includes such things as vehicle and aircraft maintenance as well as flight training, Muth said.
When one of the SANG brigades returned from fighting at the border with Yemen, for instance, 19 of their LAVs were shot up pretty badly, Muth said. The U.S. advisors there learned the SANG didn't have a battle damage and repair facility to fix the vehicles.
Working with the Saudis, Muth said, his team found an old building that was rebuilt and converted into a repair facility.
Another issue involved maintenance problems with the fleet of LAVs and other vehicles, he said. For example, when a maintenance spot check was conducted, it was found that one vehicle still had its original 1992 oil filter on it and a 1993 air filter.
A discussion with SANG leaders emphasized the importance of maintenance, and a 10-year cyclical maintenance plan was implemented.
Besides maintenance, vehicles were not receiving block upgrades, he said. The result was that vehicles were underpowered and lacked critical combat capabilities.
A program was started to begin upgrading vehicles with more powerful engines, improved suspensions and add-ons like laser range finders and other modifications similar to what the U.S. Army did with its Stryker fleet, he said.
Another issue was the lack of a period of time following combat to reset equipment, rest the troops and re-train them before returning to combat. Muth said an Army Forces Generation model that the U.S. used in Iraq and Afghanistan to rotate units in and out was implemented for the SANG brigades.
A particularly troubling finding, Muth said, was that a large percentage of SANG soldiers who were injured in combat were not surviving. The U.S. mortality rate, he noted, is two percent, while the Saudi figure is much higher (the exact percentage is classified, he said).
The U.S. team found that the reason many were dying was a lack of proper combat care and equipment, he said. The U.S. team trained medics to immediately take action to start the breathing, stop the bleeding, treat or prevent shock and move the injured quickly to a medical treatment facility.
SANG medics were also issued kits with basic first aid equipment, Muth said.
That effort, he said, is not just saving lives, but is also giving a psychological boost to SANG soldiers who now know that if something happens, someone will be there for them.
And finally, the U.S. team has effectively conveyed to SANG leaders that a big reason the U.S. Army is effective has to do with non-commissioned officers "who are the backbone of our Army," he said. "They hadn't tapped into that capability," he said.
So, the U.S. team went about designing a six-week warrior leader course for NCOs, doing the basics like patrolling, communications, land navigation, physical training, weapons training and how to lead by example, he said.
SANG leaders adopted the training and are now infusing it into their formations, Muth said. "It was a big shift for them."
None of the improvements, Muth said, would have been possible without first establishing a trusting relationship with the Saudi military and the nation's leaders.
"You've got to get to know the soldiers and make them believe you care and are committed to getting them better," he said. "You've also got to know how they think and where they come from."
Currently, the last two LAV brigades are being modernized and 350 more LAVs will be delivered by November through the FMS process, Muth said.
Two new aviation brigades will be fielded by 2023, he said, and by 2020, a flight school will be stood up.
Currently, Saudis and members of the Gulf Cooperation Council nations go to the U.S. for flight training, he said. The hope is that GCC nations can use the new Saudi school instead.
In all, the U.S. team oversees 123 contracts in the kingdom, worth $120 million per month.
All of that contract funding, as well as the entire salaries of U.S. military and contractors on the team who assist SANG, comes from the kingdom, he pointed out.