The Lightning was small in export terms, only Saudi Arabia and Kuwait placed orders for an export version in December 1965. The single seat fighters were modified variants of the F.3s designated as F.53s. The variant had much needed additional fuel tank capacity with the addition of a long ventral tank. The UK F6 variant was later updated, based on the modifications embodied in the F53.
The first demonstration of the Lightning to the Saudis was a sub-sonic display in Ridyadh, piloted by English Electric chief test pilot Jimmy Dell. The display was requested by the defence minister Prince Sultan. This demonstration greatly interested the Saudis and the Royal Saudi Air Force's chief test pilot, Lieutenant Hamdam, whom later visited the UK, taking an F.2 to Mach 2.1 during his first solo flight.
The F.53s were given multi-role capability with the facility to fit a pylon under each wing, capable of carrying unguided rocket pods or a bomb load of up to 450-kilograms (1,000 pounds), even one or two Matra rocket launchers with 18 SNEB unguided rockets.
Top wing points allowed for the addition of either a ferry fuel tank, another rocket pod or a further 450-kilogram bomb. F.53 could also house 30-millimetre Aden cannons in the forward ventral tank, a development designed for the F.53 and later retrofitted to the F.6s. A variety a of weapon packs were available to, including the Red Top, Firestreak, Microcell Rocket or reconnaissance packs.
With such a variety of weaponry, many configurations were fitted.
The Saudis were keen to buy their Lightning’s, friction between Egypt and Saudi Arabia over the civil war in Yemen, lead to the Saudis needing to counter Egyptian MiG fighter incursions. Under the "Magic Carpet" deal, in July 1966 the Saudis were provided with four F.2s as "F.52s", with a fifth passed on as an attrition replacement a year later, and two T.4s as "T.54s".
Ironically, the Egyptian incursions stopped before these interim Saudi Lightning’s went live, but they were useful for bringing the Saudi Air Force up to speed on the type. The one F.3A that wasn't upgraded to an F.6 became the initial F.53 prototype, performing its initial flight on 19 thOctober 1966. Deliveries for F.53 began in July 1968. Saudi Lightning’s were flown in their natural metal finish. They performed ground attack missions during Yemeni incursions in late 1969 and early 1970 and proved highly effective in the attack role, though one Lightning was shot down (This was the only time any Lightning fired shots in anger) the pilot ejected safely and was rescued.
Saudi Lightnings continued to be employed in both the air and ground attack role until late1981 when they were replaced in the ground-attack role by the Northrop F-5, the Lightning ceased the reconnaissance role not long after, reducing it to a single-role interceptor.
The Lightning retired from Saudi service in 1986. Of the 47 delivered, not counting two that had been lost before delivery, 18 had been lost in Saudi service, 22 were returned to the UK to re-sell to the Danish Air Force, those which stayed in Saudi were retained as gate guards and for static display.