Saudi Arabian National Guard

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Saudi Arabian National Guard
al-Ḥaras al-Waṭanī
الحرس الوطني
Saudi Arabian National Guard Emblem
Founded c. 1917
Country Saudi Arabia
Allegiance Saudi Arabia
Branch Army
Type Land Force
Role Land warfare
Size 100,000
Part of King of Saudi Arabia
Garrison/HQ Riyadh, Saudi Arabia
Nickname(s) SANG, The White Army
Engagements PSF intervention in Bahrain
Battle honours Grand Mosque Seizure
Gulf War
Commander Prince Mutaib bin Abdullah
King Abdullah

The Saudi Arabian National Guard (SANG; Arabic: الحرس الوطني, al-Ḥaras al-Waṭanī‎‎; also known as the White Army) is one of the three major branches of the Armed Forces of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.[1] The national guard is under the administrative control of the Ministry of the National Guard, instead of the Ministry of Defence. The current Minister is Prince Mutaib bin Abdullah, who was appointed to this position by King Abdullah on 27 May 2013. It differs from the Saudi army in being forged out of tribal elements loyal to the House of Saud and tasked with protecting the royal family from internal dangers such as a coup d'état.[2]

Organisation and roles

The Saudi Arabian National Guard has a standing force of 100,000 troops and a tribal militia of 25,000 plus troops. It serves both as a defence force against external attack but also as a security force against internal threats. Its duties include protecting the House of Saud, guarding against military coups, guarding strategic facilities and resources, and providing security for the cities of Mecca and Medina.

It reports directly to the King through the Minister of the National Guard, and so unlike the rest of the Saudi Armed Forces is not under the control of the Ministry of Defense, as its command structure and communication network are separate.

Its personnel are drawn from tribes loyal to the King and the royal family, whose high-ranking members are always appointed its commander. It has been described as an institution that "ties the tribes to the House of Saud" (by Sandra Mackey).[3] It also draws recruits from official Wahhabi religious establishment. [4] It differs from the army in that its officers command units (e.g. battalions) "largely made up of their own tribal cousins, which makes the leaders and their followers less susceptible to subversive ideas and outside ideologies."[4]

According to journalist John R. Bradley, it is "one of the best-trained and well-equipped armies in the world."[4] The force was extensively reorganised and retrained by the Vinnell Corporation (using over a thousand U.S. Vietnam War veterans) in the 1980s and performed well in the Persian Gulf War/Operation Desert Storm especially in the Battle of Khafji. The United States' support for the SANG has been delivered both through private contractors and the U.S. Army's Office of the Program Manager, Saudi Arabian National Guard Modernization Program.


The SANG was founded as the successor to the Ikhwan, the tribal army of King Abdulaziz. The Ikhwan had helped King Abdulaziz conquer the Arabian Peninsula and take it from Ottoman Turkey in World War I. However, the Ikhwan committed many excesses and atrocities not just on Turks but on other Arabs as well. The various tribal groups of the Ikhwan also had a tendency to go off and do their own things and thus needed to be brought under a more centralised control. The SANG acquired its moniker of the "White Army" during this period due to its wearing of traditional Arab dress instead of Western-style military uniforms. In 1954, the office of Jihad and Mujahidin was transformed into modern National Guard.[5]

Training of the National Guard became the responsibility of the Vinnell corporation of the United States in 1975. About 1,000 United States Vietnam veterans were initially recruited to serve in the long-term training program designed to convert the guard into a mobile and hard-hitting counterinsurgency force that could also reinforce the regular army if necessary. These contractors were supervised by a United States military group with the designation Office of the Program Manager—Saudi Arabian National Guard (OPM-SANG).

Extensive military infrastructure facilities have been built to ensure the comfort and well-being of national guard units. Their major cantonments were in Al-Ahsa Oasis near Al-Hufuf and the major oil installations of the Eastern Province and at Al-Qasim in the Nejd, in an area where many of the tribal elements were recruited and most training was conducted. A large new housing project for guard personnel, with associated schools, shops, and mosques, has been constructed near Riyadh, also the site of the guard's military academy, the King Khalid Military College. Other National Guard military cities were located at At-Ta'if, Dammam, and Jeddah, while a new headquarters complex was built in Riyadh in the early 1980s.

During the 1950s and early 1960s, the regular army and the national guard were both small and of roughly equal strength. The guard suffered when the army's expansion was given priority, but in the 1970s the decline was reversed when the guard was converted to a light mechanized force with the help of United States advisers. Initially consisting of four combined arms battalions, the active-duty component had by 1992 been enlarged to two mechanized brigades, each with four infantry battalions, an artillery battalion, and engineering and signals companies. The guard's mobility over desert terrain was assured by 1,100 Commando V-150 armoured cars. Firepower came from 105mm and 155mm towed howitzers, 106mm recoilless rifles, and various wheeled BGM-71 TOW platforms.

The second component of the national guard, made up of tribal battalions under the command of local sheikhs, was organised into four infantry brigades. These men, often the sons of local chiefs or of veterans of the original Ikhwan forces, reported for duty about once a month for the purpose of receiving stipends. They were provided with obsolete rifles, although many had individually acquired AK-47s and other automatic weapons. Although neither particularly well trained nor well equipped, they could be counted on to be loyal to the House of Saud if called for service. Their enrollment in the guard was largely a means to bolster the subsidies paid to local shaykhs and to retain the support of their tribes.

The national guard was swiftly deployed to the border area after Iraq's invasion of Kuwait in 1990 and was actively engaged in the war, notably in the fighting to retake the town of Ra's al Khafji. After the war ended, it was reported that an enlargement of the national guard to eleven or twelve active brigades was contemplated. In addition, the ageing Commandos were to be replaced by more than 1,000 eight-wheeled LAV IIIs manufactured by General Motors in Canada. The LAVs were to be mounted with a variety of armaments, such as 25mm autocannon, larger-calibre 90mm guns, and TOW missile launchers.


The Saudi Arabian National Guard's communications and chain of command maintained a separate network from regular Saudi Arabian military channels with a senior member of the royal family as its head. King Abdullah commanded SANG for three decades, from 1962 until 17 November 2010, when he appointed his son, Prince Mutaib bin Abdullah, as the new commander.[6] In addition, three of his sons hold high positions within the organization. SANG's Deputy Commander was Prince Badr until 2010, who was a senior member of the Al Saud. Its general headquarters, located in Riyadh, directly controlled the three regional sectors and the training facilities and the King Abdulaziz Independent Mechanized Brigade of four battalions.

The three regional (eastern, central, and western) sectors each command one or more mechanized or motorized brigades, several independent Security and Military Police and logistical battalions, but also the irregular fowj battalions.


The SANG was restructured with the help of the Vinnell Corporation into a light mechanized force equipped with over a thousand Cadillac Gage Commando armored fighting vehicles (being replaced with LAV‑25s). Its mobile force consisted of three mechanized brigades and five motorized infantry brigades. The militia portion consists of around 24 battalions of fowj, tribal warriors on "retainer".


The Eight Brigades were:

  • Imam Muhammad bin Saud Mechanized Brigade (IMBS)
  • Prince Saad Abdulrahman Mechanized Brigade (PSAR)
  • Turki Mechanized Brigade was reported to be in formation in 2002
  • King Khalid Light Infantry Brigade’s strength is unknown
  • King Abdulaziz Mechanized Brigade, was in information in 2002 still unknown
  • Prince Mohammad bin Abdulrahman al-Saud Light Infantry Brigade
  • One light infantry brigade based in Jeddah
  • One light infantry brigade based in Medina
  • Omar bin Kattab light infantry brigade based in Taif

The two original motorized brigades, IMBS and KAAB, had M‑102 howitzers (IMBS) and 155mm M‑198 howitzers, plus TOW anti-tank guided missile systems in the anti-tank platoons of the line motorized companies; two in each company in the IMBS and six in the KAAB. The two brigades each had a headquarters company, four-line motorized battalions, a field artillery battalion, a support battalion, and air defense, signals, and engineers companies.[7]



Riyadh Regional Headquarters controlled:

  • Imam Muhammad bin Saud Mechanized Brigade (IMBS), which controls four battalions (1st-4th) as well as the 1st SANG Artillery Battalion, and is based in Riyadh
  • Prince Saad Abdulrahman Mechanized Brigade (PSAR), which controls four combined-armed battalions, and is based in Riyadh
  • Turki Mechanized Brigade was reported to be in formation in 2002. As of 2006, it remains uncertain as to how developed this unit is
  • King Khalid Light Infantry Brigade’s strength is unknown
  • Ceremonial Cavalry Squadron
  • King Khalid Military College
  • Military Police battalion
  • Irregular Fowj tribal forces


Eastern Regional Headquarters, which is located in Dammam, controlled:

  • King Abdulaziz Mechanized Brigade (KAAB), was in information in 2002, but its strength and organization is still unknown. Stanton, writing in 1996, identified this brigade as the King Abdul Aziz Brigade, stationed in Hofuf south of Dammam. It comprised the 5th, 6th, 7th, and 8th Combined Arms Battalions and the 2nd Artillery Battalion (155mm M‑198 towed howitzers).[7]
  • Prince Mohammad bin Abdulrahman al-Saud Light Infantry Brigade.
  • Irregular fowj tribal forces.


Western Regional Headquarters, which is located in Jeddah, controlled:

  • One light infantry brigade based in Jeddah
  • One light infantry brigade based in Medina
  • Omar bin Kattab light infantry brigade based in Taif

Other units

Independent Battalions:

  • In addition to the battalions under the control of the three regional headquarters, SANG has four independent light infantry battalions, which appear to be dedicated to protecting facilities and installations[8]
The Saudi Arabian National Guard Structure (click to enlarge).


Uniforms worn by personnel of Saudi Arabia's national guard are closely patterned on the British and United States models that influenced them during their early development. The most common uniform colors were khaki or olive drab. Officers had semidress uniforms for various functions and dress uniforms for formal occasions. All personnel wore berets, and officers also had visored caps.[9] When in modern uniforms personnel wear a red beret. Many soldiers wear for everyday use the American Desert Camouflage Uniform (DCU), used in Iraq and other desert regions throughout the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) regions. Some units still wear the American Desert Battle Dress Uniform and a Saudi grey variation. National guardsmen often wore the traditional red-checkered keffiyeh Arab headdress. Tribal units often wear the thawb with crossed bandoliers.[9]


A Saudi V-150 in 1991

The SANG is, by tradition, issued equipment not used by the regular military, it does not possess any tanks but has several thousand wheeled armored fighting vehicles and Armoured personnel carriers. It possesses its own helicopters and light aircraft and all the remaining types of military hardware including artillery.

A $2.2 billion foreign military sale contract delivered 724 LAV‑II 8×8 wheeled armored personnel carriers in ten different varieties in 2001.

In December 2012, the Saudi National Guard ordered 68 French Multi-Purpose Combat Vehicle (MPCV) air-defense vehicles.[10] In September 2014, 24 Boeing AH-6i Little Bird light attack and reconnaissance helicopters were ordered from Boeing with deliveries to begin in 2016.[11]

Model Image Origin Variant Quantity Details
Small arms
FN Five-Seven FN5701.jpg  Belgium
AK-47 AK-47 type II Part DM-ST-89-01131.jpg  Soviet Union
H&K G36 G36 Select-Fire Carbine.JPEG  Germany
FN F2000 FN F2000S.JPG  Belgium
FN P90 FN-P90 2.jpg  Belgium
H&K MP5 MP5.jpg  Germany
Armored Personnel Carriers
LAV-III LAV III.JPG  Canada 19 [12]
Al-Fahd  Saudi Arabia 100 First indigenously designed APC.
Piranha II USMC-110624-M-VS676-027.jpg   Switzerland 1,117 172 more on order.
EE-11 Urutu EE-11 Urutu.JPG  Brazil 20
Al-Naif  Saudi Arabia
CAESAR CAESAR-openphotonet PICT6026.JPG  France 100 First received in 2010 according to Janes
Air Defense
MCPV  France 0 (+68)[13]


Saudi Ranks.PNG
Officers (up) Enlisted (down)



  • Private/Jundi (Arabic:جندي)
  • First Private/Jundi Awwal (Arabic:جندي أول)
  • Corporal/A'rif (Arabic:عريف)
  • Sergeant/Wakil Raqib (Arabic:وكيل رقيب)
  • Staff Sergeant/Raqib (Arabic:رقيب)
  • Master Sergeant/Raqib Awwal (Arabic:رقيب أول)
  • Sergeant Major/Ra'is Ruquba (Arabic:رئيس رقباء)

2013 reorganization

The SANG was transformed into a ministerial body on 27 May 2013.[14] Prince Mutaib, former commander of the SANG, became the minister of national guard on the same day.[14]


  1. "Saudi Arabian National Guard (SANG)" (PDF). Retrieved 2015-09-30.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. Cordesman, Anthony H. (2009). Saudi Arabia: National Security in a Troubled Region. ABC-CLIO. pp. 175–7. Retrieved 2 February 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. Mackey, The Saudis: Inside the Desert Kingdom, p. 207.
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 Bradley, John R. (2005). Saudi Arabia Exposed : Inside a Kingdom in Crisis. Palgrave. p. 69. The National Guard, in contrast to the army, has institutionalized and cemented tribal, social, and religious ties in the kingdom because it is made up of young men drawn from the various ranks of the Bedu, tribes, and official Wahhabi religious establishment. Commanders, for instance, often head battalions largely made up of their own tribal cousins, which makes the leaders and their followers less susceptible to subversive ideas and outside ideologies. Since they and their families reap all of the benefits of being part of the state apparatus, they are supposed to have a vested interest in maintaining the status quo. (p.69)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. "History of the Saudi National Guard". Asharq Alawsat. 11 September 2006. Retrieved 5 April 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  6. Saudi king transfers National Guard duties to son
  7. 7.0 7.1 Stanton, Lt Col Martin N. (March–April 1996), "The Saudi Arabian National Guard Motorized Brigades" (PDF), Armor magazine, pp. 6–11<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  8. Saudi Arabian National Guard
  9. 9.0 9.1
  10. Saudi Arabia National Guard ordered 68 MPCV air defense vehicles - Army Recognition, 26 December 2012
  13. "Saudi Arabia National Guard ordered 68 MPCV air defense vehicles from French company Lohr - Army Recognition". Retrieved 25 December 2014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  14. 14.0 14.1 "King Abdullah transforms National Guard into ministry". Asharq Alawsat. 28 May 2013. Retrieved 29 May 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

External links