HUNTSVILLE, Ala. — Saudi Arabia used American-made Patriot missile interceptors to shoot down rockets fired by Houthi rebels from Yemen last week, according to a top U.S. military commander.
The test underscored the Saudi’s reliance on U.S. supplied arms even as Washington has attempted to distance itself from widely underreported conflict which has claimed thousands of civilian lives, many of them in airstrikes from Saudi warplanes. It also comes as U.S. lawmakers push to block a $1.15 billion deal to sell Riyadh new Abrams tanks.
“Only last week, the Houthis in Yemen fired missiles into southern Saudi Arabia, which was defended by Saudi Patriot,” Adm. Cecil Haney, head of U.S. Strategic Command, said at the Space and Missile Defense Symposium, an annual conference attended by thousands of military and industry missile defense experts.
Saudi forces said last week that they they had intercepted missiles, but did not specify the type. The admiral referenced last week’s incident while discussing the spread of ballistic missiles to state actors and militant groups like the Houthis and Hamas.
The Houthis have fired missiles from Yemen toward Saudi Arabia at least 19 times between June 2015 and July 23, according to the Center for Strategic and International Studies, which has set up a website to track the launches. Only two of those missiles were not intercepted.
Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates are believed to have used Patriot missile defense systems, which has components made by Raytheon and Lockheed Martin, in the intercepts, but that information is rarely disclosed. Patriot is a defensive weapon system not used in offensive strikes.
“Houthi rebels within Yemen have launched a significant number of short-range ballistic missiles towards Saudi Arabia and other [Gulf Cooperation Council] military installations,” according to CSIS. “Despite major efforts to negate Houthi ballistic missile assets, the tempo of ballistic missile activity does not appear to have abated.”
Patriots have intercepted Scud and Tochka missiles, which were made by the Soviet Union, and other missiles, according to CSIS.
“Due to the limited reliability of information concerning the ongoing conflict, there may have been other intercepts or ballistic missile strikes [beyond the 19],” CSIS said.
Last year, just two weeks after Washington and Tehran struck a deal to limit Iran’s nuclear program, the State Department cleared Saudi Arabia to buy 600 PAC-3 interceptors, which are made by Lockheed Martin. Last week it was revealed that Saudi has lost 20 Abrams tanks in its war with Yemen.
Air Force Times reported last week that U.S. Air Force tanker refueling missions over Yemen have increased 60 percent since February a sign of increased U.S. involvement in the conflict.