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Saudi Airport Near Miss

Another near miss for missile defence?


The internet is currently blowing up with reports whether a recent missile attack against Saudi Arabian capital Riyadh was intercepted by Saudi’s PATRIOT missile defence system. New analysis of the attack on Riyadh’s international airport shows that the warhead may have evaded missile defences, by the missile carrying it seperating into two pieces near its target. 

Back in November, a relatively underreported missile war between Iranian-backed Yemeni rebels and a coalition of Middle Eastern countries came to its peak when a Houthi rebel missile hit near the King Khalid International Airport in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have shot down close to 150 missiles during this conflict.

The missile, an Iranian-made BURQAN-2, in order to survive the stresses of a roughly 610mi flight, was designed to separate into two pieces, where the tube, which propels the missile for most of its trajectory, falls away, and the warhead, smaller and harder to hit, continues toward the target. This explains why the debris in Riyadh only appears to consist of the rear tube, with the warhead detonating near the airport. 

After the missile was fired, US President Donald Trump and the Saudi Ministry of Defence said the weapon had been successfully intercepted before hitting its target. According to news reports, a team of analysts, led by Jeffrey Lewis of the Middlebury Institute of International Studies, analysed photos and videos posted to social media and believe Saudi Arabia’s claim that the missile was shot down may be incorrect. They found evidence indicating the missile’s warhead may have flown past the missile defense unit, according to the New York Times. There has been no comment on this from official sides.

The New York Times continues to report that the missile defence system may have hit the rear tube after it broke away from the warhead, or missed the missile entirely. A similar situation occurred in 1991, when Iraq’s AL-HUSSEIN missiles broke apart moments before impact, creating a flying debris field that confused PATRIOT missiles and caused them to miss the warhead.

On a positive note it has to stated here that the system is indeed responsible for many intercepts in the Mideast region since 2015!

Since it was first fielded, PATRIOT has been used by five nations in more than 200 combat engagements against manned and unmanned aircraft, cruise missiles and tactical ballistic missiles. Since January of 2015, PATRIOT has intercepted more than 100 ballistic missiles in combat operations around the world; more than 90 of those intercepts involved the low-cost Guidance Enhanced Missile family of surface-to-air missiles. The US company has built more than 220 PATRIOT fire units and delivered them to customers in 13 nations. Many of those countries have chosen to take advantage of PATRIOT’s flexible architecture and upgrade their systems.

We have written about missile defence being the biggest hole in the pocket before, i.e. it promises everything, costs a fortune and does not perform as advertised. Pick up an issue of MILITARY TECHNOLOGY or WEHRTECHNIK and read for yourself.




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