F / A-18 Hornets strengthen US presence in Saudi Arabia

Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 115, or VMFA-115, the “Silver Eagles”, has deployed its F / A-18C / D Hornet fighters to Prince Sultan Air Base in central Saudi Arabia to bolster the continued presence. of the United States Central Command (CENTCOM) in the country. The arrival of the United States Marine Corps “Legacy” Hornets – based at Marine Corps Air Force Base in Beaufort, South Carolina – helps maintain the Pentagon’s significant footprint in Saudi Arabia. has been accompanied by an escalation in Iran-related militant activities directed against the Kingdom in recent years.

Images of the deployment have been published today by the Defense Visual Information Distribution Service (DVIDS), although the VMFA-115 jets landed at Prince Sultan Air Base, or PSAB, on December 23. to mutual security issues.

“Strategically from this location, we enhance the flexibility and available resources of the Combined Forces Air Component Commander to move smoothly in theater,” said Lt. Col. Tim Miller, commander of VMFA-115 . “We bring a long- and short-range strike capability and counter-air defensive capability that bolster the credible combat power that we seek to project together with our partners and allies to further stabilize this region. “

US Air Force / Senior Airman Jacob B. Wrightsman

A VMFA-115 Hornet taxi on the flight line at Prince Sultan Air Base, Saudi Arabia, December 23, 2021.

At PSAB, VMFA-115 Hornets are under the control of the 378th Air Expeditionary Wing, or 378th AEW, which was created in November 2019 as part of a larger US military build-up in Saudi Arabia. Its creation follows a series of unprecedented cruise missile and drone attacks in September of the same year, linked to Iran, which targeted two major oil sites in the Kingdom. Before the end of 2019, the French Air Force F-22 Raptor Stealth Fighters and the US Army’s B-1B Lancer bombers and Patriot missile batteries had all spent time in Prince Sultan. More recently, several unit Air Force F-16 fighter jets have deployed at CCSP and examples remained there at the end of December.

In addition to the missions described, it is possible that the Hornets also conduct patrols in and around the Persian Gulf, keeping an eye out for maritime movements of the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) that could threaten warships. Americans or other friends or trade ships. . In the past, these types of sorties have also been performed by Air Force F-15E Strike Eagles.

VMFA-115 Hornets pass through Morón Air Base in Spain, en route to PSAB:

The 378th AEW was originally created to bolster U.S. forces in Saudi Arabia, signaling a more robust and long-term presence in the kingdom and making them more adept at responding to regional crises, as well as undertaking opportunities for joint training. Importantly, the wing has always been intended to function as a joint force, allowing these Marine Corps jets to fit seamlessly under an Air Force headquarters. There is also an inherent capacity for the rapid influx of all kinds of air assets in the event of a crisis.

US Air Force / Senior Airman Jacob B. Wrightsman

F / A-18 Hornets from Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 115 fly over Prince Sultan Air Base.

At the time, the Pentagon made it clear that the development was at least tied to Tehran’s activities in the region, with an official statement saying, “The United States is not seeking to come into conflict with the Iranian regime, but we will retain strong military capability. in the region that is ready to respond to any crisis and will defend American forces and interests in the region.

While this development took place under the previous Trump administration, which had close ties with Saudi Arabia, it should be noted that the arrangement continues under President Biden. This administration has also adopted a more cautious approach in its relations with Riyadh, mainly because of human rights concerns, including in the conflict in Yemen.

Since the base was established, tensions between Iran, the United States, and American allies and partners in the Middle East have not subsided, although there has always been a withdrawal of American forces from the region. . This has affected Iraq in particular, where around 2,500 US troops remain primarily in an advisory capacity.

At the same time, however, the IRGC continues to carry out a campaign of attacks on commercial tankers in the Gulf of Oman and has seized tankers in the strategic Strait of Hormuz.

US Air Force / Senior Airman Jacob B. Wrightsman

A VMFA-115 marshals sailor in an F / A-18 at Prince Sultan Air Base.

During this time, the Iranian-backed Houthi militia has also been very active, with various types of attacks on commercial and military ships in the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden, including using unmanned suicide boats. loaded with explosives. Just yesterday, the Houthis seized an Emirati-flagged vessel in the Red Sea, which was carrying Saudi military cargo from the island of Socotra in the Arabian Sea.

At the same time, the Houthis continued a campaign of drone and missile attacks against civilian targets, launched into Saudi Arabia from neighboring Yemen. Late last year, U.S. and Saudi officials said the Houthi drone and missile attack on the Kingdom included nearly a dozen ballistic missile and drone strikes on Saudi territory each week, a considerable increase from 2020. Indeed, such is the pace. of these attacks Saudi Arabia has started to run out of missile stocks for its US-supplied Patriot air defense systems and the advanced AIM-120 medium-range air-to-air missiles, or AMRAAMs, which arm its hunter jets.

US Air Force / Senior Airman Jacob B. Wrightsman

Hornets from Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 115 on the Prince Sultan’s flight line.

As for the jets that the VMFA-115 brought to the PSAB, they are a mix of single-seat F / A-18C and two-seat F / A-18D versions, reflecting the shift to “composite” squadrons that the service has introduced. one a few years ago, and which we cover exclusively at the time. As we have also discussed in the past, these jets still perform well despite their age, having undergone various upgrades. These are expected to continue, to ensure the Legacy Hornet remains on the Marine Corps frontline until 2030.

US Air Force / Senior Airman Jacob B. Wrightsman

An F / A-18D lands at Prince Sultan Air Base.

The arrival of the Marine Corps Hornets in Saudi Arabia reflects the 378th AEW’s continued role in signaling U.S. military intent and capabilities and responding to regional contingencies as they develop. With tensions between Saudi Arabia and Iran – and Iranian proxies – showing no signs of abating, the deployment of VMFA-115 is unlikely to be the last of its kind, as part of what is now a military presence long-range aircraft at Prince Sultan Air Base.

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