The current Saudi leadership has asked the Trump Administration to cease US air refueling support to the their coalition fighting in the Yemeni civil war. Our support to the Saudi coalition under the name Operation Yukon Journey came to a halt after US voiced concerns about how the Saudi and United Arab Emirates coalition’s conduct during the air campaign. The halt also comes on the heels of allegations Crown Prince Salman may have been involved in the assassination of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
The target of the Saudi coalition are the Shia aligned Houthi Rebels, led by Abdul-Malek Al-Houthi.
Saudi and UAE began an air campaign in 2015 to reinstall the sunni leader Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi who was removed from power is Sana’a. The Houthi Rebels are supported by the Iran regime with arms to include SCUD type theater ballistic missiles.
The civil war has created one of the world’s worst humanitarian crisis as the Yemeni ports have changed hands several times during the civil war. More than 23 million people, two-thirds of Yemen’s population, now rely on aid to survive and 13 million could die from famine, according to the United Nations.
Here’s the “so what” of Operation Yukon Journey…
The Saudis are involved in a proxy war with Iran. So is the US in Syria and Iraq. The Iran regime of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei currently fights on four fronts. Khanenei’s goal is Sharia Law throughout the region and the world. Saudi Arabia’s Sunni muslims are trying to stop that from happening as is the US in Syria. But the Iranian Shias have the advantage as Iran’s Hezbollah militias support the Houthis in Yemen.
Iran’s military support to the Houthis has included ballistic missiles, which they fired against Saudi Arabia’s capital of Riyadh and southern large city of Khamis Mushayt and King Khalid Air Base. American-made Patriot missiles ringing Riyadh and Khamis have engaged numerous Houthi SCUDs over the three year civil war.
As the US coalition learned during the First Gulf War, hunting Saddam’s SCUD ballistic missiles requires a big net of airplanes which must remain airborne for long periods of time. Air refueling extends the range, increases the payload, and stretches the endurance of airborne aircraft. The US Air Force has the largest fleet of tanker aircraft, 414 KC-135s and 59 KC-10s. The Royal Saudi Air Force has 26 and the UAE 3. The Royal Saudi Air Force operates a version of the US Air Force F-15E Strike Eagle, a very capable fighter bomber. Loaded down with 8-12 bombs, a Strike Eagle consumes 12,000 pounds an hour at tactical speeds. A four-ship formation of F-15Es will consume 144,000 pounds of fuel during a typical three hour long tasking. Multiply 144,000 by a 24 hour day means 1,152,000 pounds of fuel, or 177,230 gallons. An American family uses 1010 gallons a year so Mom can operate the minivan for 175 years on what the F-15Es will use in a day. Now do you understand why air refueling support is so important?
Air refueling support may not seem like a big deal to most US citizens but when you run some numbers we used during the planning of both Iraq wars and compare it to the number of tankers Saudi and UAE have in their tanker fleet, the loss of US tanker support actually limits their ability to run an effective air campaign. And the Iranian regime marches on extending their influence across the Middle East.