Are Saudi Arabia's air defences actually working?


Saudi Arabia has one of the biggest military budgets in the world. State purchased huge amount of western weapon systems, including the most advanced of them - US Patriot systems. It is even integrated into some sort of centralized Air defence system, also based on the western weapon systems.

Nevertheless, despite the fact that the Houthis announced such strike in August, and this infrastructure really matters for the kingdom, missile strike reached its goal.

Now, the US and Saudis have claimed that Iran backed this attack.

But no matter who really launched strike - does such a strike undermine those SAM systems' efficiency?
Were there any cases in which Saudis SAMs worked efficiently?

It is not the first failure of those SAMs in the middle-east, as I've also found this article. This also motivated me to ask such a question. Because each and every such failure questions efficiency of a weapon system as a whole (facts of success usings are also known, but it is interesting, what's the picture at whole).


Let's not be the car seller, who (to your question, why the car engine is not starting most of the time, as it should) claims: "But it does sometimes! Continue trying!". I do not undermine western SAMs - it works (maybe not as well as advertising says, but it does). Question is about Saudis SAM system efficiency.


Posted 2019-09-17T06:57:20.937

Reputation: 1

Question was closed 2019-09-17T13:01:30.080

2Downvoters, I greatly accept the fact, that you may not like question. Or the facts/formulation, which show free world SAMs in not a very good shape. But if you have something other than emotions, consider placing a comment.))) – user2501323 – 2019-09-17T09:32:16.463


I haven't downvoted (yet), but this reads a lot like a rant pushing Putin's line that others should buy its missiles. Generally speaking that, type of schadenfreude isn't very friendly, not on the world stage, nor here keeping in mind the CoC. That's kind of sad because the question itself is quite interesting.

– JJJ – 2019-09-17T10:59:21.300

With all respect, @JJJ very many questions here look like a rant. Especially those, which are on the edge between the worlds western and non-western. This for example: . So, I don't think that I would edit the question. It is interesting - I also think so. You may surely downvote - I'm ready to accept it. But I don't want to step back and filter my question for the free world.

– user2501323 – 2019-09-17T11:11:20.573

I am not saying that you should filter your question, but properly formatting it (so we just see underlined text, not huge links, no caps), starting with a premise / research and deriving a question from that goes a long way. – JJJ – 2019-09-17T11:14:38.840

Formatting - yeah, you are right. I'll surely do it. – user2501323 – 2019-09-17T11:15:01.293

Looks better, I think – user2501323 – 2019-09-17T11:20:54.023

Are they working? Of course they are working. The radars are on. The missiles are pointed at the sky. Did the very expensive system stop the attack this weekend? Evidently not. Now I guess it is the job of many many thousands of people in many many countries to find out why. – dolphin_of_france – 2019-09-17T15:09:39.073

It is a word-catching.) Most of visitors(I presume) understand what it is about. About actual efficiency of the system. SAM system working - is not meant to be just turned on. it meeant to WORK.) – user2501323 – 2019-09-17T15:16:30.853

2@dolphin_of_france That's obviously not what OP meant by "working". A SAM system's job is to intercept missiles. If it's turned on, and it fails to intercept a missile, then it is to some extent not working. – F1Krazy – 2019-09-17T19:04:56.797

@F1Krazy: my point exactly. It was working and yet it intercepted nothing. From what I have read it didn't even seem like any attempts were made to shoot down the incoming bogies either. People will want to know why... All the interested parties will want to know why – dolphin_of_france – 2019-09-17T19:16:06.423

1Ah, I see, you're implying the missiles were intentionally let through, rather than the system malfunctioning. I think that's going to be very hard to prove. – F1Krazy – 2019-09-17T19:17:52.297



According to some news reports, the Saudi even shot down drones in July this year:

Saudi Arabia's air force intercepted and destroyed three Houthi drones before they could reach targets in the southern Saudi cities of Jizan and Abha, a military spokesman said on Tuesday.

But clearly they were not always successful against drones:

It came after bomb-laden drones launched by Houthis killed a civilian and wounded others at a Saudi airport in Abha in recent weeks.

Also, (successful) attacks on oil infrastructure with drones are not new either; in May

In a statement carried on the state-run Saudi Press Agency, Energy Minister Khalid al-Falih said that drones attacked a petroleum pumping station supplying a pipeline running from its oil-rich Eastern Province to the Yanbu Port on the Red Sea.

A fire broke out and firefighters later brought it under control, though the state-run Saudi Aramco stopped pumping oil through the pipeline.

A more elaborate tactic allegedly used (but not clear when or where)

drones have been flown into the radar arrays of Saudi Arabia’s Patriot missile batteries, according to the research group Conflict Armament Research, disabling them and allowing the Houthis to fire ballistic missiles into the kingdom unchallenged.


Posted 2019-09-17T06:57:20.937

Reputation: 76 605


If you Google a little, you will find some news reporting that missiles fired at Saudi Arabia were intercepted:

There are other similar incidents, and also some other incidents where the missiles were not intercepted and caused material damages and casualties.

So, to answer the question, it seems that sometimes the Saudi air defense does work. The exact success rate and/or the details of why this attack did succeed seem more like a military question than a political one, IMO1.

Of course, when it works (or when it does not work but the missile only injures Middle Eastern people) the media does not feature those stories as prominently as they do when the attack could mean escalation to war (or just that the fuel prices will rise).

1Some questions could have a political facet, for example if Saudi Arabia government had decided not to provide air cover for those refineries to concentrate assets to defend other areas.


Posted 2019-09-17T06:57:20.937

Reputation: 24 682

Thank you for your answer. I agree, there were some success interceptions in the past. But I'm trying to make a whole decision, about is it generally consistent or not. SAM system efficiency is defined by its intercept percents/maintenance costs/complexity. Latest events proves, that no, generally not. – user2501323 – 2019-09-17T08:14:46.813

2Your question (as expressed in your post) is if the Saudi Air Defense ever works, and I address that. If you want to start a tirade about how SAM systems are not efficient, then this is not the place for it, as it is A) opinion based B) not a political question and C) converts your question into a rant. – SJuan76 – 2019-09-17T08:23:51.473

I greatly accept your question, and happy you've left it. But I think, that user28180 answers it better, generally. There is no speculations about who can gain bonuses from oil prices, etc. – user2501323 – 2019-09-17T08:25:28.147

Maybe I should rephrase main point of question, to accept your comment. – user2501323 – 2019-09-17T08:26:49.610

2???? Have you even read the answer? I am not speculating at all about who can gain from the attack/who is behind it. I am just explaining why the perception of "air defense does not work" is because when it works it does not make first page news. – SJuan76 – 2019-09-17T08:28:03.630

Not my downvote, but interestingly the first attack you link to (dec 2017) was a ballistic missile; the 2nd one is rather unclearly described as a "rocket". I suppose the question would have been more interesting if it were about drones and/or cruise missiles, which the US alleges were used in the latest attack on oil infrastructure. – Fizz – 2019-09-17T08:30:05.390

@SJuan76, your comment is somewhat similar to proves in Skripal's deal.) "We have proofs, but we'll not show them, because this is intelligence secret". Don't you think so? Answer above shows, that no, it is not. You claims, that it is, but I don't think, that 2 succeds proves it is working. – user2501323 – 2019-09-17T08:30:20.077

@Fizz, accept, I'll try to rephrase – user2501323 – 2019-09-17T08:31:11.257

1The news stories on the latest attack mention that in previous attacks (the Houthis?) fired drones at the SAM site radars, followed by ballistic missiles further afield at targets. It would be interesting to find out if something like this happened this time too, i.e. if the Saudi air defences were suppressed first. – Fizz – 2019-09-17T08:34:58.470

@Fizz, your deep knowing surprised me another time. I don't heard about attack schemes. THAT is really interesting. – user2501323 – 2019-09-17T08:36:26.000

2@Fizz Insightful. In any case, my peeve is that the OP seems to just want to justify his opinion, by imposing arbitrary definitions of "works" and "efficient". His claims are like claiming that the armour of a tank does not work because there is always a gun that can penetrate it: even when the tank is destroyed the armour works because it forces the enemy to use bigger, slower, more expensive guns. Against that, the objective truth is that some attacks are intercepted; if that means that the system is efficient or adequate is mostly a matter of opinion (specially with the info available) – SJuan76 – 2019-09-17T08:41:46.527

@SJuan76, you are mistaking. In terms of "armour" you mentioned, your position is to find a case, when it works, and then basing on it. Doesn't rate between sucess/fails logical? Doesn't it? You may not like the fact, that SAMs from the free world are not as efficient as they should be. But I don't think, that it is an argument. – user2501323 – 2019-09-17T08:48:05.847