The Houthi-Saleh forces’ use of ballistic missiles from Yemen is an apparent escalation of the war. These missile capabilities make a substantial difference and change the regional military balance, which was evident when Yemen’s Houthi rebels and their allies fired a Scud missile at the airbase town of Khamis Mushait in Saudi Arabia on August 12, 2016. The Saudi military intercepted the missile before it could reach its target and cause any damage.
In the this study we will analyze the effect of the ballistic missile threat to the military balance of the war and how they’ve led to concern in southern parts of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, along with former Yemeni President Ali Saleh’s threats to use North Korean BM25 ballistic missiles, and Iran’s covert role, despite its use of Arabic names for missiles fired by the Houthi-Saleh forces.
In fact, the Houthi-Saleh coalition has used the ballistic missiles to achieve a greater degree of military balance in the war, and as a card in negotiations over the future of Yemen. Based on that assumption, some questions arise here about what prevents the Arab coalition from depriving Houthi-Saleh rebels of their missile capabilities. Further questions can also be asked about the possibility for Iran to use the same ballistic missile strategy in tandem with the deployment of its Public Mobilization proxy militias against the Arab Gulf Countries.
» Strategic Balance of Power and Hindering Houthis’ Ballistic Missile Capabilities
Ballistic missiles can be used to target city centers and break the spirit of civilians. The Houthis first launched a Scud missile on early June 6, 2015, after two months of Saudi-led bombing in Yemen, with Saudi Patriot missiles intercepting the Scud, which was aimed at a Saudi Arabian air base .
On September 4, 2016, Houthis fired a Toshka missile at the weapons depot of Yemen’s 107th infantry brigade camp in Ma’rib in northern Yemen, killing 99 soldiers of the Saudi-led coalition, including 52 Emirati troops, 32 Yemeni, 10 Saudis, and five Bahrainis, with 100 soldiers injured, and a number of Apache choppers and armored vehicles destroyed or damaged .
On December 14, 2015, Houthis fired another Toshka missile at coalition forces in Dobab to the north of Bab Al-Mandab Strait in South West Ta’iz, killing the Saudi Special Forces Commander, Staff Colonel Abdullah Bin Mohammed Alsahian, an Emirati officer, Sultan Bin Mohammed Ali Alkatbi, and tens of officers from the Gulf, Yemen, and Sudan .
On December 27, 2015, Houthis launched a Scud missile at a Saudi National Guards’ camp in Najran, but this was intercepted by the Saudi air defense before it could reach its target .
A few days earlier, on December 20, 2015, Houthis announced that they considered 300 Saudi military posts and vital facilities to be legitimate targets for their missile forces .
Houthis’ attacks continued when they launched a Qahir 1 ballistic missile at the ARAMCO Company building at Jizan Port, and targeted Rajla’ camp, and Sala and Khabash sites .
The Houthi-Saleh forces also announced that they considered the cities of Abha, Jeddah, and Riyadh in KSA to be legitimate targets, while former Yemeni President Saleh threatened to use North Korean BM25 Musudan missiles that can carry a payload of 1.5 ton of explosives .
The Saudi military has managed to intercept most of the missiles fired by the Houthi-Saleh coalition before they could reach their targets, and while more missiles could be coming across the border, the impact of the weapon is likely to be muted due to their clumsy nature and poor construction; these were evident when Houthis fired an eighth ballistic missile from Hamadan at Saudi Arabia on December 29, 2015, which exploded over the Imran district some way short of its target .
The Decisive Storm operation has proved the Saudi air defense capabilities in intercepting the ballistic missiles, which is evident through the continuing routine of ordinary daily life in the Saudi cities of Jizan, Najran, and Khamis Mushait. Houthis have launched some missile attacks on these cities as retaliation for losing control over most territories and sustaining large-scale losses, especially in Ma’rib and Jouf. Another positive signal from Operation Decisive Storm has been the steady progress by the legitimate Yemeni government’s forces on most fronts in Yemen, with the troops now only tens of kilometers away from the capital Sanaa .
» Missile Support Raids
The military balance reached between two enemy states is known as the equivalence of power. The Arab coalition had achieved superiority in the Yemeni war to restore the country’s legitimate government, which led the Houthi-Saleh insurgents to turn to the strategy of using ballistic missiles to reach the balance of power for the following reasons;
– The ability of the ballistic missiles to strike deep inside the opponent country. Missiles destroy civilian morale, drain defense forces, and destroy the infrastructure and military facilities of the enemy. In the Iraqi-Iranian war between 1980 and 1988, Iraq bombed Tehran with long-range missiles that crushed people’s morale and forced a quarter of the city’s citizens to flee the city, which forced the Iranian leadership to compromise and end the war . Last year, the media of the Houthi-Saleh alliance promoted the idea that the use of missiles has tipped the balance of power through launching quality attacks against the coalition forces and the neighboring Saudi border .
– The use of mass destruction warheads. The possibility that the Houthi-Saleh insurgents could use biological and chemical warheads in case they lose ground was evident when the toppled president threatened Saudi Arabia on August 24, 2015 with a “decisive” response to any attack, saying, “We will take decisive action against you that neither your experts nor study centers are familiar with” . On December 27, 2015, he directed another aggressive warning to the Saudi-led coalition saying, “War in Yemen has not started yet.” According to Yemeni sources, Saleh can threaten regional security using weapons of mass destruction, which he has kept stored at a military base on Naqam Mountain in Sanaa since the Iraq-Iran war .
– Expanding the use of missiles against other countries such as Israel to achieve the Houthis slogan “Death to America and Israel, Curse the Jews,” in order to attain Arab and Muslim support on the model of Saddam Hussein during the liberation of Kuwait in 1991 when he fired 39 Scud missiles at Israel in one day after the Iraq war with Kuwait, targeting Tel Aviv, Haifa, and Naqab.
» Iranian support for Arabic names
Missiles need state of the art technology to launch and fly hundreds of kilometers on solid fuel, carrying explosive warheads and detonators. The Houthi-Saleh insurgents have no way of manufacturing such missiles or even modifying conventional ones manufactured by the former Soviet Union in the 1980s to be turned into ballistic missiles.
The Houthi insurgents have fired several types of missiles, all given Arabic names, toward Saudi Arabia. The first ballistic missiles they launched were bright green and bore images of the Yemeni flag. Some of these missiles are as follows:
– Alnajm Althaqib1 missile (45 km range), entered service on May 26, 2015, two months after Alhazm Storm began.
– Alnajm Althaqib2 missile (75 km range), entered service after Althaqib1.
– The Houthis’ so-called Military Industrial Unit announced the production of Alsarkhah missile (17 km range) on June 7, 2015.
– On November 23, 2015, the Iranian-made Zilzal1 and Zilzal2 missiles with a range of 15 kilometers entered service in operation, which targeted the Saudi military base in Jizan .
Based on this information, it appears clear that the Houthi-Saleh rebels use Arabic names to disguise the Iranian support for their missile program and its role in the Yemeni war .
» The ballistic stage
The Houthi-Saleh insurgents are believed to possess several different types of ballistic missiles such as,
– Farouj7 (120 km range).
– Hwasong-5 (320 km range)
– Hwasong-6 (Unknown range).
The most worrying ballistic missiles possessed by the Houthi-Saleh insurgents to achieve strategic balance of power in the ballistic stage are three types,
– Scud-B missile. Yemen had 500 missiles of this kind, most of which are now controlled by the Houthi-Saleh alliance . Some sources believe that they have seized 20 military bases to enable them to launch these missiles, which Yemen received from the former Soviet Union in the early 1980s. It is noteworthy that these old-fashioned Scud missiles played a major role in the US’ ‘Desert Storm’ in Iraq in 1991 .
– This Russian-made, vehicle-mounted, short-range, tactical surface-to-surface missile, known as the SS-21 by NATO, can be dismantled and moved to the assigned launch base. The longest range of the Toshka is 120 kilometers, with each missile having a 160m blast radius. The Toshkas, which are renowned for their high level of accuracy, each carry a 500 lb warhead. This model of missile first appeared in 1981 when it replaced the unguided Farouj7 missile. The North Yemen government used Toshka missiles against the South’s forces in 1994 in response to Scud attacks. A Toshka missile was the type fired at the Safi military base, causing 99 martyrs among the Arab coalition’s forces .
– Musudan medium-range BM25. This North Korean-manufactured missile with the same capabilities as the Soviet R-27, which can be fired by submarines, is stronger than the Scud above and Toshka missiles but has not been used yet. We believe that this is the weapon, which former President Saleh is threatening to use against the Arab coalition. The Musudan was unveiled for the first time at a military show on October 10, 2010.
» Preventing strategic balance of power
All’s well that ends well. Since the Saudi coalition’s ‘Operation Restoring Hope’ in Yemen is still ongoing, it cannot yet be accurately evaluated, but we will analyze the Houthi-Saleh alliance’s use of ballistic missiles against the Arab coalition that resulted in 99 martyrs among coalition forces in Safir, and the destruction of many Apache helicopter gunships and armored vehicles. The missile attacks also led to the martyrdom of the Commander of the Saudi Special Forces, Colonel Alsahian, the Emirati officer Alkatbi, and tens of soldiers from the Gulf, Yemen, and Sudan. The Houthi-Saleh insurgents also fired ballistic missiles at the Saudi National Guards camp in Nejran, and the ARAMCO Company at Jizan Port. The insurgents also continue to threaten the Saudi cities of Abha, Jeddah, and Riyadh, which were announced as being legitimate targets for the Houthi-Saleh rebels’ ballistic missiles.
After all the attacks by the Houthi-Saleh alliance, what prevents the Arab coalition from eliminating the missile threat of the insurgents? Moreover, how can the Coalition prevent them from achieving the strategic balance of war they would use as a trump card at the negotiating table?
– The Arab Coalition’s Intelligence services lacked clear evidence of the Houthi-Saleh forces’ change of combat strategy and tactics after the Gulf coalition achieved air sovereignty. The Arab coalition’s intelligence agencies had to spot the missiles arsenals and supporting units. These arsenals are well known to the Yemeni military personnel of the legitimate government, and the missile testing was noticeable to all. Moreover, Yemen did not conceal the amounts of weapons it received from other countries during the reign of former President Saleh , with this information being used effectively to make more precise predictions about the Houthi-Saleh insurgents’ missile capabilities.
– The Arab coalition’s intelligence service had problems in providing accurate descriptions of the missile threat. The intelligence was ineffective in giving accurate information promptly to allow the Arab coalition to eliminate the Houthis’ portable ballistic missiles.
– The coalition intelligence service lacked sources of information ahead of the war and was unaware of the deceptive tactics of the enemy. The Houthi-Saleh insurgents used camouflage operations efficiently and were more experienced like the battlefield, although, the intelligence cannot take all the blame for this. In 1991, the Iraqis built dummy missile launch bases that looked convincing enough to fool UN inspectors, who could not tell them from the real missile launch bases.
– The Arab coalition predicted that the enemy would adopt the Soviet tactics of launching missiles through installing missiles and launching the missiles and then dismantling them, which would provide enough time to spot the targets. On the contrary, however, Houthi-Saleh insurgents’ tactics were based on the Iraqi model used during the war against Kuwait in 1991, during which Iraqi forces would open already prepared posts for a short period that was gradually decreased from 90 to 10 minutes.
2- Scud air patrols
– The problem of intercepting Scud missiles lies in their portable launch bases. They can be fired from roads, from underground silos, or from open areas and the launch pads can be quickly hidden. They also can be launched from well-prepared sites shielded with sandbags and equipped with fortified shelters to protect the unit personnel. For example, during the Kuwaiti liberation war in 1991, the Allies Air Force could not manage to destroy one mobile missile launcher despite the intense air raids against these bases.
– In the Cat and Mouse game between the pilot and the ballistic missile, the pilot loses because of the smartness and swift movement of the missile personnel. In addition to that, weather conditions play a significant role in the launch operations.
– Deception operations must be thoroughly analyzed and carefully interpreted. For example, the temporary silence of missiles gives credibility to pilots’ reports about the elimination of these missiles, though these could also be dummy targets or disguised fuel tankers.
– The constant firing of missiles at the Saudi borders and the coalition’s military installations in Yemen indicates a failure by intelligence services to provide accurate information for air commanders and planners. Also, pilots cannot detect and spot mobile missile launchers, especially at night, which is the period favored by 80 percent of the missile launches for this reason. Launching personnel also avoid using electronic communications in order not to reveal their locations. In fact, identifying portable missile launchers is not an easy mission, which was evident in the liberation of Kuwait operations in 1991 when the Allied patrols spotted 42 such mobile launchers being used, but no airstrikes could intercept the missiles.
As the war is still ongoing, the Houthi-Saleh insurgents will continue their efforts to achieve strategic balance through the deployment of ballistic missiles. Lack of accurate intelligence should be overcome through dispatching small covert Special Forces groups inside Yemen to identify and destroy the launch bases, eliminating the threat posed by these missiles and reducing alarm on the Saudi borders.
Finally, the Iranian role in the missile war is very apparent. The Iranian-backed Houthi-Saleh alliance must be deprived of the ability to achieve a strategic balance of the war, which they use to maintain their position at the negotiating table. Since the Gulf countries are on the map of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards operations room, the Arab coalition must not allow the Houthi-Saleh insurgents to become a carbon copy of the Iraqi Public Mobilization Forces, which might turn south toward the Gulf countries to achieve the strategic goals of the decision-makers in Tehran.