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Saudi Arabia flagSaudi Arabia

Missile Last updated: September, 2014

Saudi Arabia has a limited ballistic missile arsenal consisting of the Chinese Dongfeng-3 (DF-3; NATO: CSS-2), and reportedly the Dongfeng-21 (DF-21; NATO: CSS-5). [1] Riyadh has not demonstrated an interest in developing an indigenous missile program.

Although China originally designed both the DF-3 and DF-21 to carry nuclear payloads, the DF-3s were modified to deliver conventional warheads before being transferred to Saudi Arabia. [2] Similarly, Saudi Arabia's DF-21s have reportedly been modified to carry only conventional warheads. [3] Riyadh does not possess WMD, and has pledged that it will not arm the missiles with unconventional payloads. [4]

Capabilities

Ballistic Missiles
Until recently, Saudi Arabia's ballistic missile arsenal was believed to be limited to the Chinese Dongfeng-3 (DF-3; NATO: CSS-2), purchased from China in 1987. The DF-3 is a road mobile, liquid fuelled, medium-range ballistic missile (MRBM). With a range of 2500km, the DF-3 has extensive regional reach. Saudi Arabia deploys the DF-3 at two confirmed sites: Al-Joffer, northwest of Riyadh, and As-Sulayyil, southwest of Riyadh. [5] Although not independently confirmed, analyst Sean O'Connor identified two additional DF-3 launch sites in 2009 at Rawdah, 280 km west of As-Sulayyil, and in the far northwestern desert region. [6] In July 2013, O'Connor released a new report identifying a potential missile base at al-Watah. [7] O'Connor's analysis noted two launch pads with orientation lines aimed at Israel and Iran, serving to expedite the launch process by providing parking-lines, or guidelines, for the placement of the mobile launch vehicle to target a given area. [8]

Even so, the DF-3 is a highly inaccurate missile, and would therefore be ineffective against discrete military or tactical targets when equipped with a conventional warhead. Furthermore, Saudi Arabia has never tested the DF-3, which would be critical for ensuring its reliability and training missile forces. [9] Riyadh is dependent upon China to maintain and operate the DF-3, which further limits the missile's military utility. [10] In a step that could improve Saudi Arabia's ability to hit regional targets with improved accuracy, recent reports suggest Riyadh purchased the Dongfeng-21 (DF-21; NATO: CSS-5) ballistic missile from China in 2007. [11]

Missile Defense
Saudi Arabia began pursuing a ballistic missile defense capability (BMD) following the Gulf War in 1990, during which Iraq used short-range ballistic missiles (SRBM) and cruise missiles against the Kingdom. Currently, Riyadh fields two variations of the Hawk surface-to-air missile system (SAM) (MIM 23B I-Hawk and MIM J/K Hawk), which have limited anti-ballistic missile capabilities. Saudi Arabia also fields two variations of the more advanced and longer range Patriot SAM system, the Pac-2 (MIM 104C) and the Pac-3 (MIM 104F). Riyadh's missile defense system is designed to defend the Kingdom against its primary adversary, Iran. Given Iran's continued push to develop more sophisticated missile systems, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait, the UAE, and the U.S. are seeking to integrate radar, early warning, and SAM sites into a regional missile defense system. [12] Media reports have suggested that Saudi Arabia is considering bolstering its missile defense capabilities with BMD-capable Aegis destroyers and the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system. [13]

Cruise Missiles

Saudi Arabia possesses two air-launched cruise missiles, the anti-ship (ASCM) AGM-84L Harpoon and the land attack (LACM) Storm Shadow (the United Kingdom; France: Scalp EG). The Storm Shadow is an advanced conventionally armed cruise missile that gives Riyadh precision strike capabilities in excess of 250km. While the Storm Shadow manufacturer, MBDA, lists the range as "exceeds 250 km," many experts and organizations, including the National Air and Space Intelligence Center, list the range as being greater than 300 km. [14] While Saudi Arabia is not a member of the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR), the United Kingdom is, and the sale of a 300 km range cruise missile is prohibited as a Category I system. [15] The sale of the missile, confirmed in April 2012, has therefore renewed debate over the capacity and utility of the MTCR to prevent the proliferation of sensitive missile technologies. [16]

Recent Developments and Current Status

Saudi Arabia does not currently have the domestic capacity to develop ballistic missiles, lacking both the infrastructure and the scientific and technological know-how. For this reason, Anthony Cordesman has suggested that Saudi Arabia may be interested in purchasing more advanced missile systems from a foreign supplier, and perhaps specifically from China or Pakistan. [17] Indeed, Newsweek reported in January 2014 that Saudi Arabia had purchased Dongfeng-21 (DF-21; NATO: CSS-5) ballistic missiles from China in 2007. [18] Although the DF-21 has a shorter range, it is more accurate than the DF-3, leading some observers to regard the purchase as a replacement or update of the DF-3 missile purchased in 1987. [19] Neither Saudi Arabia nor China is a member of the Missile Technology Control Regime, so such an exchange would not violate any of their international commitments. Even so, Saudi Arabia allegedly sought and received U.S. approval of the deal, after the CIA verified the DF-21 design would be incompatible for nuclear warheads. [20] Jeffrey Lewis of the Center for Nonproliferation Studies predicts the missile buy will have no major strategic impact on the region, but "assesses that Saudi Arabia could modify the ballistic missile frame to carry a nuclear warhead." [21]

In recent years, Saudi Arabia has sought to draw attention to its ballistic missile program. In July 2013, Saudi Arabia released a photo of high-ranking officials holding scale models of three different missiles, including the DF-3 and two unknown missiles. [22] Almost a year later in April 2014, Saudi Arabia displayed its DF-3 missiles in public for the first time during a major military parade, a move which some experts viewed as an effort to signal its military strength vis-à-vis Iran and its autonomy from the United States. [23]

Sources:
[1] Jeff Stein, "The CIA Was Saudi Arabia's Personal Shopper," Newsweek, January 29, 2014.
[2] "DongFeng 3 (CSS-2) Intermediate Range Ballistic Missile," Sino Defence, www.sinodefence.com.
[3] Jeff Stein, "The CIA Was Saudi Arabia's Personal Shopper," Newsweek, January 29, 2014; Jeffrey Lewis, "Why Did Saudi Arabia Buy Chinese Missiles?" Foreign Policy, January 30, 2014.
[4] Anthony H. Cordesman, Saudi Arabia Enters the Twenty-First Century: The Military and International Security Dimensions (Westport: Praeger 2003), p. 313.
[5] Anthony H. Cordesman, Saudi Arabia Enters the Twenty-First Century: The Military and International Security Dimensions (Westport: Praeger 2003), p. 325.
[6] Sean O'Connor, "Saudi Arabia's Ballistic Missile Force," Imint & Analysis, 10 February 2009, www.geint.blogspot.com.
[7] Sean O'Connor, "Saudi ballistic missile site revealed," HIS Jane's Defence Weekly, 10 July 2013, www.janes.com.
[8] Sean O'Connor, "Saudi ballistic missile site revealed," HIS Jane's Defence Weekly, 10 July 2013, www.janes.com.
[9] Anthony H. Cordesman, Saudi Arabia Enters the Twenty-First Century: The Military and International Security Dimensions (Westport: Praeger 2003), p. 326.
[10] Anthony H. Cordesman, Saudi Arabia Enters the Twenty-First Century: The Military and International Security Dimensions (Westport: Praeger 2003), p. 325.
[11] Jeff Stein, "The CIA Was Saudi Arabia's Personal Shopper," Newsweek, January 29, 2014; Jeffrey Lewis, "Why Did Saudi Arabia Buy Chinese Missiles?" Foreign Policy, January 30, 2014.
[12] "Gulf States Requesting ABM-Capable Systems," Defense Industry Daily, 29 July 2012, www.defenseindustrydaily.com; "Saudi Arabian Programs," Raytheon, www.raytheon.com; "Persian Gulf states speed up U.S. missile shield," United Press International, 1 October 2012, www.upi.com.
[13] Christopher Cavas, "Saudi Arabia Mulling BMD-Capable Destroyer," Defense News, 13 June 2011, www.defensenews.com; "GCC States Interested in THAAD Missile-Defense System," Al-Defaiya: Arabian Defense and Aerospace Business, 17 August 2012, www.defaiya.com; Adam Entous, "Saudi Arms Deal Advances," The Wall Street Journal, 12 September 2010, online.wsj.com.
[14] "Storm Shadow/Scalp," MBDA Missile Systems, May 2011, www.mbda-systems.com; National Air and Space Intelligence Center, "Ballistic and Cruise Missile Threat," Federation of American Scientists, April 2009, www.fas.org.
[15] Jeffrey Lewis, "Saudi Storm Shadow Sale Confirmed," Arms Control Wonk, 3 April 2012, lewis.armscontrolwonk.com; Missile Technology Control Regime, "Guidelines for Sensitive Missile-Relevant Transfers," www.mtcr.info.
[16] Jeffrey Lewis, "Saudi Storm Shadow Sale Confirmed," Arms Control Wonk, 3 April 2012, lewis.armscontrolwonk.com; Missile Technology Control Regime, "Guidelines for Sensitive Missile-Relevant Transfers," www.mtcr.info.
[17] Anthony H. Cordesman, Saudi Arabia Enters the Twenty-First Century: The Military and International Security Dimensions (Westport: Praeger 2003), p. 313.
[18] Jeff Stein, "The CIA Was Saudi Arabia's Personal Shopper," Newsweek, January 29, 2014; Jeffrey Lewis, "Why Did Saudi Arabia Buy Chinese Missiles?" Foreign Policy, January 30, 2014.
[19] Jeff Stein, "The CIA Was Saudi Arabia's Personal Shopper," Newsweek, January 29, 2014; Ethan Meick, "China's Reported Ballistic Missile Sale to Saudi Arabia: Background and Potential Implications," U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission Staff Report, June 16, 2014.
[20] Jeff Stein, "The CIA Was Saudi Arabia's Personal Shopper," Newsweek, January 29, 2014.
[21] Ethan Meick, "China's Reported Ballistic Missile Sale to Saudi Arabia: Background and Potential Implications," U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission Staff Report, June 16, 2014; Jeffrey Lewis, "Why Did Saudi Arabia Buy Chinese Missiles?" Foreign Policy, January 30, 2014.
[22] Jeffrey Lewis, "Saudi Arabia's Strategic Dyad," Arms Control Wonk, 15 July 2013, lewis.armscontrolwonk.com.
[23] Simon Henderson, "Saudi Arabia's Missile Messaging," The Washington Institute, April 29, 2014, www.washingtoninstitute.org.

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This material is produced independently for NTI by the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies at the Monterey Institute of International Studies and does not necessarily reflect the opinions of and has not been independently verified by NTI or its directors, officers, employees, or agents.

Get the Facts on Saudi Arabia

  • State party to the NPT, CWC and BTWC
  • Possesses 40 to 60 CSS-2 medium-range ballistic missiles with a maximum range of 2,650km
  • Has no nuclear research or power reactors