A long-promised feature on “Saudi ballistic missile forces”:http://geimint.blogspot.com/2009/02/saudi-arabias-ballistic-missile-force.html has appeared at Sean O’Connor’s “IMINT & Analysis”:http://geimint.blogspot.com blog. It does not disappoint. To me, at least, it suggests that we know less than we thought we did about the subject, out here in the open-source world.
O’Connor locates not just the two missile bases that turn up in pretty much every book or paper on the subject, but _four_ sites, actually, scattered across some of the most rugged terrain of Saudi Arabia’s central plateau. As the warhead flies, two are about 1,800 km from Tehran, and the other two about 1,400 km from Tehran. Give or take a bit.
Despite some reports about a decade ago that the Saudis were shopping for newer missiles to replace their aging DF-3A IRBMs, O’Connor interprets all four bases as related to the DF-3As. At times, though, this seems a little forced.
All four locations appear to have a few things in common, notably roads, tunnel or bunker entrances, and a launch pad or two. But the pair of newly discovered locations doesn’t seem to have a great deal more than that. They’re at a farther remove from any major highways. And they look so austere in comparison to the better-known sites that one really wonders if they serve (or served) the same systems.
There are also signs of expansion and renovation at the better-known sites that don’t square with the established chronology. The DF-3As were acquired in the late 1980s, and reportedly became operational in the year or so before Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait. (Also see “GlobalSecurity.org’s look at the As-Sulayyil base”:http://www.globalsecurity.org/wmd/world/saudi/al-sulayyil.htm, which shows “expansion between 1995 and 2000”:http://www.globalsecurity.org/wmd/world/saudi/al-sulayyil-support.htm.)
Clearly, the Saudi ballistic missile complex is an ongoing project. Do we fully appreciate what it consists of? An open question.