Report: Saudi Arabia Advancing Missile Program with Chinese Help

Then-Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman on a visit to the Pentagon in June 2016.  Source: U.S. DoD

The Saudi government is moving forward with a ballistic missile program, leveraging support from China, according to a new report.

U.S. media outlet CNN claimed in a report on June 5, 2019, that the U.S. has received intelligence indicating that Riyadh “has significantly escalated its ballistic missile program with the help of China.”  Furthermore, “previously unreported classified intelligence indicates Saudi Arabia has expanded both its missile infrastructure and technology through recent purchases from China.”

The report is based on three unnamed sources said to have direct knowledge of the issue.  The Saudi Embassy in the U.S. did not comment on the report, nor did U.S. State Department officials.

The U.S. government has not made a definite conclusion on the purpose of the Saudi missile work, but, CNN reported, “the missile advancement could mark another step in potential Saudi efforts to one day deliver a nuclear warhead were it ever to obtain one.”

Saudi Arabia has long been wary of rivals’ ballistic missile arsenals in the region and has seen the procurement of its own stock of missiles as a deterrent.  Prior to the collapse of Saddam Hussein’s rule in Iraq, Saudi Arabia was threatened by the Iraqi ballistic missile arsenal.  At present, Riyadh is concerned about the development of ballistic and cruise missiles in Iran, particularly given that Riyadh suspects the Iranian nuclear program is geared toward developing a nuclear warhead.  Tehran insists that its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes.

While Saudi Arabia has previously been known to have procured Chinese ballistic missiles directly, the CNN report suggests the country is working to localize production.  Earlier in 2019, The Washington Post revealed satellite imagery of a facility that was identified as a potential ballistic missile production factory.  The infrastructure seen on satellite images appeared to be similar to that of Chinese designs, experts told the Post.

About Derek Bisaccio

Military markets analyst, covering Eurasia, Middle East, and Africa.

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