Why Saudi Arabia Failed to Intercept Houthi Drones?

Nearly a week after claiming drone attacks on Saudi oil facilities, Yemen’s rebels say will stop targeting the kingdom.

The Houthi rebels have repeatedly targeted key Saudi infrastructure in recent months in cross-border attacks. Earlier this week, they said they had picked out dozens of sites in the UAE as possible targets for future attacks.

Earlier on Friday, Saudi officials brought journalists to the site of the Abqaiq oil processing facility, one of the two locations hit in drone and missile attacks on September 14 2019.

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The Yemen conflict is largely seen in the region as a proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran.

Current Saudi Arabian MIM Patriot

The MIM Patriot is designed and build to intercept ballistic missiles at a long range. The MIM Patriot intercepted ballistic missile numerous times in Saudi Arabia, UAE and Israel. The MIM Patriot can operate in fully autonomous mode, semi-autonomous and manual control through human interface. It’s possible that the Patriot battery were deployed autonomous mode for many hours which resulted drifting of the clocks of the command center and the radar AN/MPQ-64. A minor drift of clocks can deviate the interceptor missile PAC-2 which Saudi operates to few hundreds meters of distance from the target.

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Question you can ask, why did Saudi Arabia fail intercept cheaply made Iranian drones and ballistic missiles when Saudi Army operates MIM 104 Patriot.

Three reasons stand out among all for Saudis inability to intercept missile:

Lack of training and operational procedure – Following the attack, the Pentagon said it has approved the deployment of 3,000 additional troops and military hardware to train Saudis Patriot Crews, boosting the country’s defenses after attacks on its oil installations blamed on Iran.

Lack of layered air defense systems – Missile defense involves detecting, tracking, intercepting and destroying enemy missiles. The air defense combines three types of missile defense, often referred to as a layered defense posture.

Absence of advanced PAC3 interceptor – To mitigate risks, Saudi Arabia signed an agreement with the U.S. government for the purchase of 320 more advanced Patriot PAC-3 missiles built by Lockheed Martin Corp , and may accelerate its plans to buy the longer-range THAAD system.

The PAC-3 sale is part of a larger possible deal valued at $5.4 billion for a total of 600 PAC-3 missiles that was approved by the U.S. government.

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American Response

Saudi Arabian Patriot crews lacks proper training who operates MIM Patriot. Arab countries are not known to have good training regimes let along a great training regimes. On September 26 2019, the United States dispatched 300 US Army’s Patriot operators to Saudi Arabia to train Saudi Army’s Patriot crews and operates Patriot Systems correctly.

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Defining Layered Air Defense

Although Saudi Arabia spends billions of dollar on military equipment but Saudi Arabia lacks layered air defense systems like Israel. A layered air defense systems that include short-range air defense, medium-range point defense Systems and long-range missile defense systems. The Saudi Army lacks electronic warfare and laser systems which are capable of repelling mixed attacks of this type.

Read More National Advanced Surface to Air Missile System (NASAMS) II: The Most Advanced Ground Based Air Defence Systems In The World

Missile defense involves detecting, tracking, intercepting and destroying enemy missiles. The air defense combines three types of missile defense, often referred to as a layered defense posture:

  • Tactical, short-range tactical missiles with a range of about 50 miles. Example: NASAMS II, CAMM-ER and Iron Dome. The NASAMS is also a point defense Systems which protect vital infrastructure like the US Capitol.
  • Theater-range missiles that range up to about 200 miles. Example: MIM Patriot and THAAD.
  • Strategic, long-range, intercontinental ballistic missiles that can travel wherever needed on Earth. Example: Aegis ashore with SM-6 BMD and anti-satellite systems.

The missile defense architecture also comprises three components:

  • Networked sensors, including space- ground- and sea-based radars for target detection and tracking.
  • Ground- and sea-based interceptor missiles for destroying ballistic missiles using either the force of a direct collision, called “hit-to-kill” technology, or an explosive blast fragmentation warhead.
  • A command, control, battle management and communications network providing operational commanders with links between the sensors and interceptor missiles.

Saudi Arabia could have peered its long-range MIM 104 with medium-range NASAMS II systems designed to engage targets at medium distances. During the past few years of the EW systems deployed at the airbase successfully repelled dozens of attacks of armed drones.

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It has been reported that Saudi Army is interested to procure Israeli Iron Dome and laser weapons to intercept artillery shells, drones and rockets.

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