Key Point: Missile defense has always been mostly theoretical, and this doesn't look good.
The missile strikes that badly damaged a key Saudi oil facility on Sept. 14, 2019 largely remain a mystery to the public.
Yemen's Houthi rebels, who have been at war with a Saudi-Emirati coalition since 2015, claimed responsibility for the coordinated attacks on two Saudi Aramco facilities, but it’s unclear that the Houthis alone possess the capacity for long-range, precision-guided strikes.
It’s possible the attacks involved far-flying drones firing small, guided munitions. The Aramco sites are around 800 miles from the Saudi Arabia-Yemen border. Iran’s hard-line Revolutionary Guard Corps in the past has supplied the Houthis with weaponry including drones and components for ballistic missiles.
But one thing is clear. The attack revealed the limits of Saudi Arabia’s seemingly sophisticated air-defense system. Riyadh in recent years has spent billions of dollars building up six battalions of U.S.-made Patriot surface-to-air missiles and associated radars. The Patriots didn’t stop the recent attack.
And it wasn’t the first time Saudi Arabia’s Patriots have failed. At least five Patriots apparently missed, malfunctioned or otherwise failed when Saudi forces tried to intercept a barrage of rockets targeting Riyadh on March 25, 2018.
Houthi forces fired at least seven rockets at Saudi Arabia that night. The Saudi military launched Patriot Advanced Capability-2 missiles in an attempt to destroy the Houthi rockets in mid-air. The Saudis claimed seven of the Patriots struck their targets.
One man reportedly died after being struck by metal fragments. It's unclear whether the fragments came from a malfunctioning Patriot, a successful intercept or a Houthi rockets striking the ground.