Sunday, December 19, 2010

The Saudi Arabian SAM Network


The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia contains what is arguably some of the most valuable real estate on the face of the planet. The massive oil reserves have turned Saudi Arabia into an economic powerhouse in the late 20th Century. It should come as no suprise that a portion of the Kingdom's profits were spent on military systems to defend the Kingdom from regional aggressors.


Encompassing a vast amount of relatively barren territory pockmarked by population centers primarily situated along the coastlines, Saudi Arabia employs a point-defense oriented SAM network. The bulk of Saudi Arabia's defensive assets have come from the United States and the United Kingdom via a series of multi-billion dollar weapons contracts.

Air defense assets are controlled by the Royal Saudi Air Defense forces. This service branch was separated from the Saudi Army in 1981, and is headquartered in the capital of Riyadh. The air defense forces operate the EW facilities and strategic SAM systems.


Twenty nine EW sites have been identified in Saudi Arabia, four of which were inactive in the most recently available imagery. The primary EW radars are the AN-TPS-43, AN-TPS-63, and AN/TPS-77, most of which were delivered in the 1980s. EW sites are situated along the border of the nation, with multiple sites providing additional coverage of the nation's interior. The only area devoid of significant EW coverage is the barren southeastern region, bordering the UAE and Oman.

The following image depicts the locations of Saudi Arabian EW sites:

The MIM-104 PAC-2 Patriot represents the most capable strategic SAM system operated by Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia initially ordered the Patriot system in 1990, and to date has received a total of twenty one batteries. Saudi Arabia has expressed interest in acquiring the ATBM-optimized PAC-3 ERINT system, but a contract has yet to be signed.

Saudi Arabia currently fields eleven operational Patriot batteries. A total of fifteen Patriot deployment sites have been identified, with four remaining unoccupied in the latest imagery. The majority of Saudi Arabian Patriot batteries are deplyed at prepared, hardened facilities. These facilities feature hardened revetments for the TELs and a raised berm for the AN/MPQ-53 engagement radar.

A Saudi Arabian Patriot site near Dhahran can be seen in the image below:
The locations and coverage zones of Saudi Arabian Patriot batteries can be seen in the image below. Note that the bulk of the systems are consolidated along the northeastern coastline, defending the major oil export facilities and the Dhahran metro area.

HAWK missile systems have served in Saudi Arabia since the 1960s. Between the late 1970s and early 1980s, Saudi Arabia received the improved I-HAWK system and re-built ten HAWK batteries to the same standard.

There are currently eighteen active HAWK batteries in Saudi Arabia, with a further six inactive HAWK sites. HAWK batteries are typically deployed to provide close-in air defense for Patriot batteries.

The locations and coverage zones of Saudi Arabian HAWK batteries can be seen in the image below:

Overall Coverage

Arrayed in a point-defense layout, the Saudi Arabian strategic SAM network represents a formidable obstacle to any potential aggressor. The Kingdom has deployed strategic SAM systems in a manner designed to defend the most critical locations in the nation. Unsuprisingly, a large concentration of SAM systems are positioned in the northeastern portion of the nation, along the coastline facing Iran.

The following image depicts the nationwide strategic SAM coverage in Saudi Arabia:
Primary Locations

There are five primary SAM concentrations, with each location defended by no fewer than three active batteries. These locations are the capital of Riyadh, the metropilotan areas surrounding Dhahran and Mecca, and the military facilities at King Faisal AB and King Khalid Military Complex. HAWK batteries also protect other locations, such as King Khalid AB.

The following image depicts the deployment of air defense assets near the capital of Riyadh. Note the positioning of an active HAWK battery and an EW facility near the military complex southeast of Riyadh at Al Kharj.
The following image depicts the deployment of air defense assets near the city of Mecca. SAM assets are deployed along the western coastline to provide clearer fields of view for associated radar systems. While the HAWK batteries near the coastline cannot defend the skies directly over Mecca, the Patriot battery can range over both areas, including King Fahd AB to the east, which is also defended by a HAWK battery.
The following image depicts the deplyment of air defense assets near the city of Dhahran:
Given Dhahran's economic importance to the Kingdom, it is defended by the highest concentration of strategic SAM assets found in the nation. These SAM batteries, currently consisting of six active Patriot and four active HAWK batteries, are arrayed to provide overlapping fields of fire throughout the area. The multiple target engagement capability of the Patriot system makes this the best-defended piece of real estate in the entire nation.

The following image depicts the overlapping fields of fire of the deployed Patriot and HAWK batteries near Dhahran:
The following images depict the deployment of air defense assets near King Faisal AB and King Khalid Military Complex, respectively. Each location is defended by multiple SAM batteries.
The Air Element

With a high percentage of Saudi Arabia remaining sparsely populated, the Kingdom also relies on the Royal Saudi Air Force to defend its skies in conjunction with the deployed strategic SAM assets. Current air defense aircraft include the F-15C and EF-2000, with the multi-role F-15S also fully capable of performing the task if required.

Air defense capable aircraft are currently deployed at four locations. A fifth location, Prince Sultan AB near Riyadh, is home to the RSAF's E-3 AWACS fleet. These aircraft can serve as gap fillers in the air defense network's EW system, or can direct air defense aircraft to targets. In the same fashion, the air defense aircraft can serve to defend the Saudi skies unprotected by SAM systems.

The following image depicts the locations where air defense aircraft are based. Red icons indicate the presence of combat aircraft, while the blue icon represents the Saudi E-3 base.

Combining strategic SAM systems and a capable air force ensures that Saudi Arabia is relatively well defended. However, there are certain limitations to the network. Reliance on the aging HAWK SAM system reduces the effectiveness of the network in certain areas, particularly those with the HAWK as the primary defensive system. A potential aggressor such as Iran, with acess to the HAWK in its own inventory, would be well-versed in the capabilities, limitations, and effective counters to the system.

Furthermore, the point-defense layout of the network leaves large portions of the nation undefended by strategic SAM assets. While aircraft can be called upon to defend these areas if required, the presence of large gaps in the nationwide air defense picture leaves numerous vulnerabilities open to exploitation by a foreign aggressor.


All things considered, the Saudi Arabian strategic SAM network is logically arrayed to defend key religious, industrial and military locations. With the potential acquisition of the PAC-3, the network will enhance its ability to intercept inbound tactical ballistic missiles, possibly forcing an aggressor to rely on airpower rather than missile strikes alone to engage targets. Considering the strength of the SAM network around likely targets, and the presence of the capable RSAF, this could turn out to be a losing proposition for all but the most capable air arms.


-Satellite imagery provided courtesy of Google Earth


Friday, December 17, 2010

SAM Site Update: How It Works

Given that the SAM Site Overview update took a while to process this month, I thought I'd explain how it works.

During the course of a given month, I am always looking for new and interesting locations to include in the file. Many of the new locations are also provided by IMINT & Analysis readers, whose help is always appreciated! I file these new sites away in a folder, and generate any necessary range rings. They also get added to an Excel spreadsheet which compiles all of the inventory numbers you see when you click on the Continent or Country folders. When Google Earth updates its imagery, which typically happens twice a month these days, they also release a .kmz file which outlines the new imagery. The .kmz file usually follows the imagery update by two or three days. When I get these files, I go through and check existing locations to see what has changed. Things I look for include active sites becoming inactive, and a change in site equipment. For example, the current update features a Chinese S-300PMU-2 site, which was formerly occupied by an S-300PMU-1 battery.

All of this takes a little bit of time, but is relatively straightforward and uncomplicated. The problem this month was a delay in Google Earth releasing the .kmz file of the latest imagery update. I wanted to wait until it was available to get the most accurate product out, especially since I figure that they may not do another update this year due to the holidays.

So, now you know how it works! And hopefully you can see that the delay this time was really a technical issue, and not another example of my outstanding ability to procrastinate.

Speaking of which, yes, the Saudi Arabia feature will still be posted tomorrow!

Image of the Week: Kadena Raptors

The image above depicts six F-22As from the 27th FS, 1st FW at Langley AFB, Virginia. The Raptors were deployed to Kadena AB, Okinawa for a 120-day theater security deployment over the first quarter of 2010. The Raptors imaged above are seen prior to departure from Kadena, as evidenced by the presence of external fuel tanks carried for long-range travel. The external fuel tanks are often used to support deployments. They have also been noted underwing of Alaska-based F-22s performing intercept missions against Russian strategic bombers, likely providing an additional fuel reserve for overwater sorties.


Feel free to discuss the current Image of the Week at the IMINT & Analysis Forum Image of the Week discussion thread found here.


-Satellite imagery provided courtesy of Google Earth

Saturday, December 4, 2010

December Schedule

Here's the current theoretical December schedule:

Week 1: SAM Site Overview update (late next week, after the next Google Earth imagery update)
Week 2: Saudi Arabia's SAM network
Week 3/4: update to China's 2nd Artillery; I'll be gone for part of the time for the holidays, so only one update over this week.

I'll also be gone the first week of January, so the January schedule will also be slightly altered, with the SAM Site Overview update being posted during the second week along with a yet-to-be-decided SAM Network analysis piece.

Image of the Week: Rafales

The image above depicts the ramp space at Landivisiau AB in northwestern France, occupied by two Rafale M multirole fighters. Landivisiau is located close to Brest, home to one of the French Navy's major port facilities (and France's SSBN base). Landivisiau serves as the land-based home to the French Navy's carrier-based combat aviation units, with three squadrons of fighter aircraft in residence. Two of these units operate the Super Etendard Modernise, with the third operating the Rafale M. The Rafale series, including variants operated by the French Air Force, represents one of the more advanced 4+ generation combat aircraft currently in service. Current plans call for the replacement of the Super Etendard with further examples of the Rafale in the 2015 timeframe. At sea, the French Navy's Rafale M sqaudron operates from the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier (CVN) Charles de Gaulle, and the aircraft have seen operational service as part of the NATO mission over Afghanistan.


Feel free to discuss the current Image of the Week at the IMINT & Analysis Forum Image of the Week discussion thread found here.


-Satellite imagery provided courtesy of Google Earth