Defence system called into question despite country spending $65bn on arms last year including US radar and Patriot missiles
- Abqaiq refinery and Khurais oil field were blown up in suspected drone attack, crippling Saudi Arabia’s oil exports and cutting off 5 per cent of global supply
- Experts question how low-tech drones were able to pierce Saudi’s air security
- Country bought $65bn of arms last year, including US radar and Patriot missiles
- Vladimir Putin said Saudi should have bought his S-400 air defences instead
Drone attacks on Saudi Arabia’s oil fields show the kingdom is vulnerable to assaults using low-cost technology despite being the world’s largest importer of arms, experts say. Saudi Arabia spent an estimated $65 billion on military hardware last year alone, most of which was imported from the United States, including the latest radars, F-15 fighter jets, and Patriot missile defence systems. But on Saturday an attack using what appears to have been explosive-laden drones managed to pierce that defensive shield and knock out half of the kingdom’s oil output, or 5 per cent of global supply. The failure of Saudi Arabia and its American-made weapons to protect against such an attack even drew a mocking response from Vladimir Putin, who suggested the country should have bought Russian defence systems instead. Saudi Arabia’s largest oil refinery Abqiaq (pictured) and one of its oil fields were badly damaged in a suspect drone attack on Saturday The relatively low-tech attack managed to pierce the Arab kingdom’s air defences despite the country spending $65billion on arms last year alone (pictured, the refinery burns) Experts say attack shows how high-tech defence systems – including US-made radar systems and Patriot missiles – can be vulnerable to low-tech attacks Officially the attack has been claimed by Iran-backed Houthi rebels operating out of Yemen, who have been using drones to attack Saudi oil infrastructure for months. But Saudi Arabia and the US are convinced the attack came from the north – either directly from Iran or from Iranian-backed militias operating in Iraq. As evidence they point to – among other things – the Houthi’s lack of technology as evidence the attack could not have come from them. But some experts believe it is precisely because the attack is low technology that it succeeded in passing underneath Saudi’s defences.
Outlined in red are the damaged sections of the Abqaiq oil refinery which is thought to have been hit by drones – though US officials believe cruise missiles could also have been used
Pictured outlined in white are the damaged sections of the facility, before they were struck
Outlined in red is the damaged section of the Khurais oil field after it was struck
Pictured outlined in white is the same section of the Khurais oil field, before it was struck Footage distributed by the Huthis showed models of at least 15 unmanned drones and various sizes of missiles of different ranges. The newest of these weapons were long-range cruise missiles, dubbed ‘Al-Quds’, and explosives-laden ‘Sammad 3’ drones that can hit targets as far as 1,500 kilometres (930 miles) away, according to the Huthis. A spokesman for the Saudi coalition fighting in Yemen, Turki al-Maliki, told reporters Monday that ‘all indications are that weapons used in both attacks (at the weekend) came from Iran.’ Experts say the threat from drones will continue, changing how countries defend themselves and how insurgencies invest in weapons. ‘The problem is that there is not one system that enables you to handle every case, and the threat from drones is constantly evolving,’ a French military engineer told AFP recently.