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.

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

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

Another reason could be the lack of training of the ground crew 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.

Other possible explanation of the inability of Saudi Arabia to protect its infrastructure from missile and drone attacks is that it lacks layered defenses 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.

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 pairs its long-range MIM 104 with medium-range NASAMS II systems designed to engage targets at midium distances. During the past few years of the EW systems deployed at the airbase successfully repelled dozens of attacks of armed drones. At the same time, Saudi Army could have Israeli Iron Dome to intercept artillery shells, drones and rockets. Considering great relationships between Saudi Arabia and Israel, Saudi Arabia could easily acquire Iron Dome Systems.

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