Sept. 20, 2019
- Saudi Arabia, the planet’s third-highest defense spender, fell victim to a drone and missile attack on the world’s largest oil facility. The kingdom’s defenses are designed for entirely different threats. The low-flying and relatively cheap drones and cruise missiles used in the attack are a fairly new challenge that many nations are not prepared to counter. It also doesn’t help that massive oil plants are just easy targets.
- “Saudi oil assets are vulnerable for the simple reason that when flying over them at night, they stick out against the desert background like a Christmas tree,” said Michael Rubin, a former Pentagon official and Middle East expert at the American Enterprise Institute. “This means that enemies don’t need high-tech GPS-guided drones, even though they might have them, but can also use relatively lower technology drones.”
- Saudi Arabia boasts an arsenal of sophisticated and expensive air defense equipment. They have the American-made Patriot, German-made Skyguard, and France’s Shahine mobile anti-aircraft system.
- But, as Jack Watling, a land warfare expert at the Royal United Services Institute, told CNBC, “The track record of Patriot engaging missiles of any kind is pretty awful, they very rarely hit the target.”
- The other issue, he says, is that it’s designed for shooting down high-altitude ballistic missiles, not cruise missiles and drones. “These were low-flying cruise missiles. They were coming in far below the engagement zone for Patriot.”
- “The Saudis have a lot of sophisticated air defense equipment. Given their general conduct of operations in Yemen, it is highly unlikely that their soldiers know how to use it,” Watling said. He added that Saudi forces have “low readiness, low competence, and are largely inattentive.”