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FLASH ALERT: HIGH RISK OF MISSILE AND DRONE ATTACKS BY HOUTHI TARGETING OIL IN SAUDI ARABIA

Updated: Apr 3

FLASH ALERT: HIGH RISK OF MISSILE AND DRONE ATTACKS BY HOUTHI REBELS TARGETING OIL INFRASTRUCTURES IN SAUDI ARABIA


Team: Sofia Pantoula, Alberto Suarez Sutil, Elizabeth Leoce, Giorgio Tiberio, CENTCOM Team

Léopold Maisonny, Alessandra Ciffo Editor; Demetrios Giannakaris, Senior Editor; Jennifer Loy Chief of Staff

March 26, 2022



Location of the Saudi Aramco oil plant in Jeddah[1]



The Counterterrorism Group (CTG) is issuing a FLASH ALERT for Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, with particular attention to the Saudi Aramco oil facility and its surrounding area. The situation comes after Yemen’s Houthi rebels attacked an Aramco oil facility on Friday, with the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix taking place tomorrow.[2] The attack raises concern among western governments, such as the United Kingdom and the United States, dependent on Saudi oil.[3] Saudi Arabia will very likely need to increase their capital expenditure of oil production to meet global demands amid the global energy crisis, despite security concerns. Aramco’s president and chief executive, Amin Nasser, said that increasing oil to reach demand would be long-term due to current geopolitical factors.[4] This will very likely deepen US-Saudi tensions and increase global inflation. The US will likely need to increase the security of Saudi’s oil facilities, as more missile and drone attacks are likely to occur.


CTG is on HIGH ALERT following the attack on Saudi Aramco’s oil facility in Jeddah. Increased attacks will VERY LIKELY target Saudi energy infrastructure in and around major cities near Jeddah. The use of drones will very likely heighten the ongoing war between the Houthi rebels and Saudi Arabia. Expanding security measures to protect Saudi infrastructure will very likely protect oil production, which will likely improve the current global oil crisis.


On Friday, March 25, 2022, Houthi rebels used a Quds 2 Land-Attack Cruise Missile (LACM) on a Jeddah oil plant.[5] The same weapon was used to attack the Musaffah oil facility in Abu Dhabi on January 17, 2022.[6] The Houthis will very likely continue to target Jeddah and other cities in Saudi Arabia, as they likely try to cripple oil production in Saudi Arabia, very likely increasing the number of attacks against the oil industry and its infrastructure. The new Quds 2 missiles, designed to replace the prior Quds 1, allow the Houthis to increase their striking range by 300 kilometers.[7] This is likely to put cities and infrastructure further north at risk of attack. This will likely hinder the development of the new King Abdullah Economic City (KAEC). KAEC is located north of Jeddah, playing a vital role in the country’s future economic growth.[8]


The use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), such as Samad drones, is likely to increase in future attacks, due to their dimension and travel capability to slow speeds on an unpredictable flight path.[9] As they fly at a low height, there is a roughly even chance that ground-based radar systems will not detect these UAVs.[10] Drones will likely be used more frequently against oil facilities, as they are cheaper than the Quds 1 and Quds 2 LACMs.[11] They will cause less damage than a LACM due to their smaller explosive payloads.[12] The drones’ capability to cause less damage will likely reduce any collateral damages against civilians, compared to the LACM’s precise striking capacity.[13] Drone’s infrequency for hitting civilians will very likely instill a sense of insecurity in workers in the oil industry. Workers in the oil industry are likely to avoid going to work to the oil rigs and petrochemical installations, fearing that they may be targeted by a Houthi drone or missile strike. This will very likely decrease oil production in Saudi Arabia, negatively impacting its economy.


The unpredictability of the UAVs and the long-range of the new LACMs will likely require new security measures around major Saudi cities, such as Jeddah and the new King Abdullah Economic City. With a decrease in western procurement of Russian oil amid the war in Ukraine and new Houthi technological developments, Saudi oil facilities will likely become more vulnerable.


CTG’s CENTCOM Team recommends the Saudi government to deploy specific anti-UAV radars around the country’s main oil facilities. These systems differ from standard radars, which are unable to detect the small UAVs used by the Houthis. Anti-drone radars improve detection capabilities by providing constant long-range tracking of multiple UAVs at the same time, regardless of visibility and weather conditions.[14] CTG’s CENTCOM Team recommends the use of Radio Frequency (RF) Analyzers to track the communications between the drone and its controller, likely allowing Saudi officials to know the intended target in advance. Advanced RF Analyzers can also provide the location of the drone and its controllers through triangulation.[15] CTG’s CENTCOM Team will continue to monitor the developments in Houthi attacks and their implications. The CENTCOM Team will cooperate with CTG’s Specialty Teams to monitor the threat’s development and provide up-to-date analysis and recommendations. The EUCOM and NORTHCOM Teams at CTG will monitor any statements from western leaders regarding Saudi oil imports and distribution. CTG’s Worldwide Analysis of Threats, Crime, and Hazards (W.A.T.C.H.) Officers will continue to monitor the developments of the situation and provide up-to-date reports of this threat.


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[1]Location of the Saudi Aramco oil plant in Jeddah” by Google Maps

[2] Fire breaks out at Jeddah oil depot before Saudi Arabia grand prix, The Guardian, March 2022, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2022/mar/25/fire-breaks-out-at-jeddah-oil-depot-ahead-of-saudi-arabia-grand-prix

[3] UK`s Johnson visits Saudi Arabia, seeks more oil output, Associated Press, March 2022, https://apnews.com/article/russia-ukraine-putin-boris-johnson-business-london-f05e691fb2c93414e5391f055a7c839c

[4] Saudi Aramco to increase oil production to meet global demand, The Guardian, March 2022, https://www.theguardian.com/business/2022/mar/20/saudi-aramco-to-increase-oil-production-to-meet-global-demand

[5] Saudi Aramco`s Jeddah oil depot hit by Houthi attack, Al Jazeera, March 2022, https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2022/3/25/saudi-aramco-jeddah-storage-facility-hit-by-attack

[6] The Houthis present high, low and slow challenges to the UAE’s air defense, International Institute for Strategic Studies, February 2022, https://www.iiss.org/blogs/military-balance/2022/02/the-houthis-present-high-low-and-slow-challenges-to-the-uaes-air-defence

[7] Ibid

[8] About, King Abdullah`s Economic City (KAEC), March 2022, https://www.kaec.net/about/

[9] The Houthis present high, low and slow challenges to the UAE’s air defense, International Institute for Strategic Studies, February 2022, https://www.iiss.org/blogs/military-balance/2022/02/the-houthis-present-high-low-and-slow-challenges-to-the-uaes-air-defence

[10] Ibid

[11] Cheap and nasty: Yemen's home-grown drones pose challenge for UAE, France 24, January 2022, https://www.france24.com/en/live-news/20220127-cheap-and-nasty-yemen-s-home-grown-drones-pose-challenge-for-uae

[12] Flight Performance Analysis of the Samad Attack Drones Operated by Houthi Armed Forces, Science & Global Security, 2020, https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/citedby/10.1080/08929882.2020.1846279?scroll=top&

[13] Ibid

[14] 10 Counter-Drone Technologies To Detect And Stop Drones Today, Robin Radar Systems, https://www.robinradar.com/press/blog/10-counter-drone-technologies-to-detect-and-stop-drones-today

[15] Ibid

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