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Saudi Arabia Is Running Out Of Patriot Missiles In Its Conflict With The Houthis

For example, other types of ground-based air defense systems, as well as soft-kill systems, are normally only effective against drones at shorter ranges and lack the ability to provide coverage over a wide area. In the future, a directed-energy weapon might provide a more cost-effective option for destroying drones, but the vast majority of such weapons are still in development and are considered less proven than existing, but very expensive, hard-kill systems like missiles.

Defeating ballistic missiles is a harder proposition still and can only really be achieved by an advanced missile-based air-defense system. Alternatives to the Patriot are available, and, in the past, Russia has offered its S-400 system to Saudi Arabia. Still, even an order placed for Russian systems wouldn’t address the huge cost gap between defender and aggressor and those systems are not nearly as proven as the Patriot from this challenge mission set. There is also the reality that the U.S. would not likely allow it due to security concerns and sanctions are already imposed on allies that buy such Russian-made systems, which could send a fissure through the deep military relationship between The Kingdom and the United States. 

There is also a larger strategic issue of Iran. Armed with many advanced ballistic missiles that would be used in large numbers during the opening hours of a conflict in the region, countering an Iranian barrage is the central mission of Saudi Arabia’s Patriot system. Without fresh stocks of missiles in place, The Kingdom’s own forces would be far more vulnerable. These forces could be key in an allied operation against Iran should hostilities break out. There is also a significant portion of the global oil supply that would be put at greater risk without Saudi Arabia’s Patriot system being active and well-stocked. 

Clearly, the threats that Saudi Arabia now faces are multiple, and there is no single solution that will be able to deal with ballistic missiles and drones effectively and affordably. For the time being, replenishing stocks of Patriot missiles and AMRAAMs would seem to be the most relevant approach, providing that the U.S. government allows such a deal to be executed.

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