He was appointed as Minister of Defense and Aviation in 1962 by King Faisal. During his time as Minister of Defense and Aviation, he purchased U.S. tanks, fighter planes, missiles and AWACS (airborne warning and control systems). However, Saudi military has had problems assimilating technology within its armed forced because much of the gear is grounded. a large portion of Saudi's $34 billion defense budget is spent on maintaining military equipment from the 1970s. Sultan has allegedly become extraordinarily wealthy from kickbacks by Western businesses that handled multibillion-dollar defense contracts. He was involved in many scandals, including the Al-Yamamah deal. However, his influence was still unhindered until recently when his health deteriorated. During his tenure, Saudi Arabia has become the largest importer of US arms. He is a strong proponent U.S.-Saudi partnership. In 1982, King Fahd appointed him as Second Deputy Prime Minister.He is an expert on the Yemen civil war and Soviet involvement in the Horn of Africa in 1985. Sultan was Saudi Arabia's Inspector General. He was Chairman of the Board of Saudi Arabia's national airline, Saudi Arabian Airlines. As Chairman, he approved a ban on smoking inside all Saudi airports. In 1986, he founded the Saudi National Commission for Wildlife Conservation. He was the founder and patron of the Prince Sultan bin Abdul-Aziz International Prize for Water, a bi-annual international scientific award for water research.
He was rumored to have had colon cancer in 2003. A foreign correspondent was forced to leave the country after reporting his health problems. On August 1, 2005, he became Crown Prince despite having a discord with King Abdullah. As Heir Apparent and Crown Prince, Sultan is first in the Saudi line of succession.
A leaked March 2009 diplomatic cable from WikiLeaks stated that U.S. diplomats view him as "for all intents and purposes incapacitated". He was possibly suffering dementia, specifically Alzheimer's disease. In February 2009, he underwent surgery in New York. He then convalesced at Agadir, Morocco. He returned back to Saudi Arabia but soon returned to Morocco in August. During his vacation, the Saudi cabinet increased officer salaries, a traditional domain of Sultan. In November 2010, Sultan received Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Al-Hariri to discuss the future of Lebanon's government. He has been receiving treatment for the past two years for what analysts and diplomats believe to be cancer. At the end of the month, he returned to Saudi Arabia because King Abdullah left for the United States for surgery. His return was seen as a legal formality necessary under Saudi law, which stipulates that only one of the kingdom's top two officials can be abroad at a given time.
He had three wives, and numerous sons. They included:
- Princess Monera bint Abdul-Aziz bin Mousad Al Saud (mother of his heir, Prince Khalid)
- Princess Houda bint Abdullah Al Sheikh
- Princess Areej bint Salem Al Maree
- "For Saudis, U.S. Arms Deal Is a Challenge - UPI.com." Latest News, Latest News Headlines,News Articles, News Video, News Photos - UPI.com. Web. 22 Oct. 2011 <http://www.upi.com/Business_News/Security-Industry/2010/10/26/For-Saudis-US-arms-deal-is-a-challenge/UPI-37281288112455/>.
- Kershner, Isabel, and Mark Landler. "THE WAY WE LIVE NOW: 12-22-02: PRIMER; Who's Who in the House of Saud - Page 2 - New York Times." The New York Times - Breaking News, World News & Multimedia. Web. 22 Oct. 2011. <http://www.nytimes.com/2002/12/22/magazine/the-way-we-live-now-12-22-02-primer-who-s-who-in-the-house-of-saud.html?pagewanted=2>.
- News, Arab. "Sultan Receives Hariri in Agadir - Arab News." Home - Arab News. Web. 22 Oct. 2011. <http://arabnews.com/saudiarabia/article179739.ece>.
- McDowall, Angus. "Saudi Crown Prince Sultan Dies| Reuters." Business & Financial News, Breaking US & International News | Reuters.com. 22 Oct. 2011. Web. 22 Oct. 2011. <http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/10/22/us-saudi-arabia-sultan-idUSTRE79L0DL20111022>.
- "BBC News - Saudi Arabia Crown Prince Sultan Bin Abdulaziz Al Saud Dies." BBC - Homepage. Web. 22 Oct. 2011. <http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-15413275>.