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What Air Defense has Saudi Arabia and How Effectively it Works

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Patriot air defense system deployment site in Saudi Arabia / Open-source illustrative photo
Patriot air defense system deployment site in Saudi Arabia / Open-source illustrative photo

During the massive iranian air attack on Israel overnight April 14th, 2024, Saudi Arabia's air defense equipment helped in repelling the onslaught of drones and missiles. Although the political decision of Riyadh to reach out to Jerusalem is the most important part here, the details of Saudi involvement were not reported. Therefore, we can only assume what kind of air defenses could be shooting down drones and/or missiles potentially launched from the territory of Yemen.

Against this background, let's find out what in general constitutes the air defense capability of Saudi Arabia, a country spending approximately 30 billion dollars a year on its defense budget.

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Saudi Shahine SAMs / Defense Express / What Air Defense has Saudi Arabia and How Effectively it Works
Saudi Shahine SAMs / Open-source illustrative photo

According to The Military Balance 2023 guidebook, an estimated 16,000 servicemen serve in the air defense units of Saudi Arabia (for comparison, 75,000 soldiers serve in the ground forces). As for equipment, those units wield 108 M902 launchers of the Patriot PAC-3 long-range anti-missile defense system, divided into 6 battalions. To complement them, there are 400 M1097 Avenger short-range anti-aircraft systems.

Additionally, the Saudi air defense has 128 MIM-23B Improved Hawk launchers, organized into 16 battalions, and 40 Crotale air defense systems plus 141 units of its localized version called Shahine, organized into 17 battalions.

This guidebook, compiled by IISS, also indicates the presence of 90 M163 Vulcan self-propelled anti-aircraft artillery systems and 128 Oerlikon GDF 35-mm anti-aircraft guns. In the portable missile department, an unspecified number of FIM-92 Stinger and Crotale MANPADS is present at the disposal of the ground forces.

Saudi Arabian Air Force F-15 fighter jets escort a B-52H of the U.S. Air Force / Defense Express / What Air Defense has Saudi Arabia and How Effectively it Works
Saudi Arabian Air Force F-15 fighter jets escort a B-52H of the U.S. Air Force / Open-source illustrative photo

Speaking of the aviation component, the picture looks even more interesting. According to the same source, the Royal Saudi Air Force has a total of 302 fighters, including 231 F-15 aircraft in modifications C (56 units), D (25 units), S (66 units) and SA (84 units), and also 71 Typhoon fighter jets.

Saudi Arabia also boasts a total of seven airborne early warning systems, including five E-3A Sentry and two Saab 2000 Erieye.

E-3 Sentry AWACS of the Royal Saudi Air Force / Defense Express / What Air Defense has Saudi Arabia and How Effectively it Works
E-3 Sentry AWACS of the Royal Saudi Air Force / Open-source illustrative photo

That said, we should also mention the mega-project of Saudi Arabia to acquire 7 batteries of THAAD anti-missile systems and deploy the infrastructure for them with a total cost of USD 15 billion, scheduled to enter operation by 2028. Another project, although less ambitious, aims to purchase Cheongung-II air defense system from South Korea for $3.2 billion, the details of the deal are not disclosed.

At the same time, no less important than the sheer number of available forces and equipment is to consider the effectiveness of their use. Because, for example, during the strikes by Yemen's Houthis on the energy infrastructure of Saudi Arabia, the effectiveness of air defense was at best 50%.

Approximate locations of future Saudi THAAD sites / Defense Express / What Air Defense has Saudi Arabia and How Effectively it Works
The map showcases the approximate locations of future Saudi THAAD sites / Credit: Janes
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