By Ms. Adriane FossMay 7, 2015
The Office of the Program Manager-Saudi Arabian National Guard Modernization Program held its annual U.S./SANG Aviation Program Management Review April 1-7 in Huntsville, Ala.
Representatives gathered to discuss procurements as the United States helps the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia's Ministry of the National Guard build their aviation force.
OPM-SANG, which celebrated a 42-year partnership with the MNG last month, is dedicated to enhancing the special relationship between the KSA and the United States. To do this, military and civilian teams assigned to Saudi Arabia assist in modernizing their National Guard force. This modernization encompasses training, equipment, maintenance, supply, procurement, management, organization, health care and facilities.
"The goal of the Aviation PMR is to synchronize actions across the aviation enterprise to ensure our (MNG) partners modernize their aviation force in the most efficient manner they can," said Brig. Gen. Paul Laughlin, OPM-SANG program manager.
The five days of face-to-face talks between OPM-SANG and MNG leaders, industry partners, contractors and case managers were especially important as a Saudi-led coalition has conducted airstrikes on Houthi rebels in Yemen since March 26. The air campaign was suspended April 21, but military action has since resumed.
"The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is currently conducting combat operations within their region and the Guard must be prepared to answer any call and accomplish assigned missions," Laughlin said April 1.
The MNG is one of two, full-time active armies in the Kingdom and is on a path to achieve an end-strength of 120,000. Its roots date back to the late King Abdul-Aziz's original White Army, and its stated mission is to assist with the defense of the Kingdom and protect the royal family.
While the PMR had no connection to the airstrikes in the Middle East, it does underscore the importance of the OPM-SANG mission and this year's conference in Huntsville.
"I believe this is a first in a long time that an Army Security Assistance organization is assisting a partner nation with beginning an army aviation force from the ground up," Laughlin said.
He said the complex nature of starting up an aviation force from its founding takes a lot of expertise, coordination and skilled negotiation.
"With as many agencies, commands and corporations, all assisting in the modernization efforts, it is imperative that synchronization occurs," Laughlin said.
He noted that the initial UH-60M Black Hawk and AH-64E Apache helicopters have been delivered and are on their way to close out Phase 1 of the modernization program, filling the MNG's first combat aviation brigade.
Feedback from the PMR was positive. Both U.S. and Saudi representatives are hopeful that the meeting will result in improved coordination and performance.
"The PMR is a very important event to us," MNG chief of aviation Maj. Gen. Rashed Al Zahrani said. "It is critical so that we ensure everything is being accomplished in a timely manner and appropriately."
"We have mapped out a viable plan for the remainder of Phase 1 through Phase 3," Laughlin said. "I am very proud of the work which has been done so far by the OPM-SANG aviation team. Their dedication and commitment to excellence with assisting their Saudi Guard counterparts is inspiring."
Laughlin praised the Saudis' participation and openness during the PMR.
"We are truly longtime partners with very established relationships," said Laughlin, "and as such, candor is not only constructive, it is what is expected -- on both sides -- to ensure we meet our partners' intent and needs."