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Missile Last updated: November, 2013

Saudi Arabia has a limited ballistic missile arsenal consisting solely of the Chinese Dongfeng-3 (DF-3; NATO: CSS-2), and has not demonstrated interest in developing an indigenous missile program. Although the DF-3 missiles were originally designed by China to carry a nuclear payload, they were modified to deliver conventional warheads before being transferred to Saudi Arabia. [1] Riyadh does not possess WMD, and has pledged that it will not arm the missiles with unconventional payloads. [2]

Capabilities

Ballistic Missiles
Saudi Arabia's ballistic missile arsenal is limited to the Chinese Dongfeng-3 (DF-3; NATO: CSS-2). 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. However, the DF-3 is a highly inaccurate missile; when equipped with a conventional warhead, it would therefore not be effective against discrete military or tactical targets. Furthermore, Saudi Arabia has never tested the DF-3, which would be critical for ensuring its reliability and training missile forces. [3] Riyadh is dependent upon China to maintain and operate the DF-3, which further limits the missile's military utility. [4] All of the above considerations suggest that the DF-3 is not currently an active component of Saudi defense strategy.

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. [5] 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. [6]

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. [7] 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. [8] 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. [9]

Recent Developments and Current Status

Saudi Arabia deploys the DF-3 at two confirmed sites: Al-Joffer, northwest of Riyadh, and As-Sulayyil, southwest of Riyadh. [10] In 2009, analyst Sean O'Connor identified two sites that he categorized as additional DF-3 complexes (at Rawdah, 280 km west of As-Sulayyil, and one in the far northwest desert region). [11] In July 2013 O'Connor released a new report identifying a potential missile base at al-Watah. [12] O'Connor's analysis noted two launch pads with orientation lines aimed at Israel and Iran. [13] Such orientation lines would serve to expedite the launch process by providing parking-lines or guidelines for the placement of the mobile launch vehicle to target a given area. O'Connor's assessments of missile sites at al-Rawdah, the northwest desert, and al-Watah have not been independently confirmed, however.

Saudi Arabia does not have the capacity to develop ballistic missiles domestically, 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. [14] 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. Some experts, including Jeffrey Lewis of the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies, speculate that Saudi Arabia may have acquired either the "DF-21 or DF-15 from China, Ghauris or Shaheens from Pakistan, or some combination of all three." [15] Saudi Arabia, China, and Pakistan are not members of the Missile Technology Control Regime, so such an exchange would not violate any of their international commitments. Saudi Arabia has not displayed any actual missiles, and at this time no further open source evidence supports the allegation that Riyadh acquired such systems.

Sources
[1] "DongFeng 3 (CSS-2) Intermediate Range Ballistic Missile," Sino Defence, www.sinodefence.com.
[2] Anthony H. Cordesman, Saudi Arabia Enters the Twenty-First Century: The Military and International Security Dimensions (Westport: Praeger 2003), p. 313.
[3] Anthony H. Cordesman, Saudi Arabia Enters the Twenty-First Century: The Military and International Security Dimensions (Westport: Praeger 2003), p. 326.
[4] Anthony H. Cordesman, Saudi Arabia Enters the Twenty-First Century: The Military and International Security Dimensions (Westport: Praeger 2003), p. 325.
[5] "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.
[6] 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.
[7] "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.
[8] 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.
[9] 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.
[10] Anthony H. Cordesman, Saudi Arabia Enters the Twenty-First Century: The Military and International Security Dimensions (Westport: Praeger 2003), p. 325.
[11] Sean O'Connor, "Saudi Arabia's Ballistic Missile Force," Imint & Analysis, 10 February 2009, www.geint.blogspot.com.
[12] Sean O'Connor, "Saudi ballistic missile site revealed," HIS Jane's Defence Weekly, 10 July 2013, www.janes.com.
[13] Sean O'Connor, "Saudi ballistic missile site revealed," HIS Jane's Defence Weekly, 10 July 2013, www.janes.com.
[14] Anthony H. Cordesman, Saudi Arabia Enters the Twenty-First Century: The Military and International Security Dimensions (Westport: Praeger 2003), p. 313.
[15] Jeffrey Lewis, "Saudi Arabia's Strategic Dyad," Arms Control Wonk, 15 July 2013, lewis.armscontrolwonk.com.

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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