International

The reason why Saudi Arabia is buying so many Blackhawks

Saudi Arabia has been buying a lot of weapons in recent years. So much so that a recent purchase of 17 Sikorsky UH-60M Blackhawks went by almost unnoticed. What's most interesting about this sale, though, is not just the fact that the Saudis have acquired some very versatile helicopters, but rather who the Blackhawks were bought for.


A Soldier is lowered from a UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter during the Gowen Thunder open house and air show at Gowen Field in Boise, Idaho, Oct. 14, 2017. Saudi Arabia recently purchased 17 UH-60M Blackhawks for the Saudi Arabian National Guard and the Royal Saudi Land Forces Airborne Special Security Force. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Master Sgt. Becky Vanshur)

According to a Lockheed Martin brochure, the UH-60M has a crew of four and can hold 11 troops. It has a cruising speed of 151 knots and can haul 9,000 pounds of cargo on an external hook. Versions of the UH-60 have handled everything from packing weapons to medevac missions to firefighting.

A UH-60 Blackhawk flies overhead during an exercise at Tactical Base Gamberi. (Army photo by Sgt. 1st Class Randall Pike)

The Saudi military has six armed services: The Royal Saudi Land Forces, the Royal Saudi Navi, the Royal Saudi Air Force, the Royal Saudi Air Defense, the Royal Saudi Strategic Missile Force, and the Saudi Arabia National Guard. Two of these services will split the 17 Blackhawks: The Saudi Arabia National Guard is buying eight, while the other nine will go to the Royal Saudi Land Forces Airborne Special Security Forces.

The Saudi Arabia National Guard is nothing like the U.S. National Guard. In the United States, the National Guard does everything from disaster relief to fighting in combat alongside active forces. It serves both the state and federal governments. The Saudi Arabia National Guard, conversely, is meant to protect the Saudi Royal Family from coups. It is very likely that the eight Blackhawks they're acquiring will be used as troop transports.

A pair of U.S. Army MH-60M Blackhawks fly in formation with a U.S. Marine Corps CH-53E Super Stallion. There is a chance that the nine Blackhawks being purchased by the Royal Saudi Land Forces Airborne Special Security Forces could be equipped with some of the same technologies in the MH-60s used by the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Allison Lotz)

The Royal Saudi Land Forces Airborne Special Security Forces, on the other hand, are elite troops with the Royal Saudi Land Forces, Saudi Arabia's regular army. The Royal Saudi Land Forces website states that personnel who join the Airborne Special Security Forces are "qualified to carry out the most intricate and sensitive missions and complete them with highest speed, swift movement, and maximum accuracy." The nine Blackhawks going to this elite unit are likely to be used for troop transport missions, but they could very well have modifications similar to those used by the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment, better known as the Nightstalkers.

A representative for Sikorsky pointed WATM to the company's website on the UH-60 when asked for comment. Either way, the Saudis have acquired a number of highly versatile helicopters that have served a number of countries very successfully over the years. Exactly what the Saudis intend to do with these choppers remains to be seen.

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