Skip to comments.Saudi Arabia's Secret Missile City in the Middle of the Desert
Posted on 04/09/2002 7:30:37 PM PDT by Bad~Rodeo
The computer at CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia chooses random names for topics and operations it deals with. "Deep Blue" is the name given to an aggregate of troubling information received by the agency at the beginning of 1988. The source of most of the reports is the NSA's monitoring of communications by the Chinese administration and military. According to these, Saudi Arabia was conducting advanced negotiations with China about the acquisition of dozens of surface-to-surface missiles built to carry nuclear weapons.
The intelligence communities of both the US and Israel were totally stunned, as until then they did not know anything about this. Officials from the CIA and the research department of IDF Intelligence sat with a compass and drew the ranges. The missiles that the Saudis planned to buy, CSS-2 as they are called in professional terminology, or Dong-Feng 3 in the Chinese version, have a range of between 2,500 to 3,500 kilometers. Such a range encompasses all of the Middle East, including parts of what was once the USSR, and, of course, all of Israel.
Officials in Israel and the US did not understand why the Saudis, who in public take a moderate and pragmatic diplomatic line, had to buy the missiles, which at the time constituted China's central nuclear attack force. Concern increased when these reports were added to reports of the great financial support given by Saudi Arabia to the development of the "first Islamic bomb," as Pakistan's atomic enterprise was called.
Israeli and American intelligence began a wide-scale campaign with a double purpose: To gather details about the deal, and an attempt to learn what the Saudis were really planning to do with the missiles. The campaign was partially successful. It turned out that 120 missiles were to be acquired, as well as 12 launchers. The Americans were especially surprised when it turned out that the person conducting the dialogue on the part of the Saudis was none other than the State Department favorite, Prince Bandar Bin Sultan, the charming ambassador to Washington.
The Saudis paid a fortune for the missiles. The Chinese got the feeling from them that money was no object, and that Prince Bandar would pay any price to get his country into the prestigious club.
They're Planting the Desert with Missiles
The first CSS-2 missiles arrived in June, 1990, and were deployed in two places south of Riyadh: Most of them in the huge complex built north of the El-Suleil desert, about 500 kilometers from the capital, and a minority of them in El-Jofer, 100 kilometers from the city. The rest of the missiles arrived during the following years.
About two weeks ago, the satellite Iconus, the best civilian photographic satellite in the world, took special photos for Yediot Aharonot over El-Suleil. The photos prove that over the last few years the Saudis have invested huge resources in the development of a secret military city, "King Khaled."
In comparison to previously accessible photos of the region, photographed by the French satellite Spot in 1995, the intensive construction in the region, spread over hundreds of square kilometers in the heart of the desert, is clearly recognizable. The Saudis have added missile launching pads, access roads, command headquarters, a huge residential area, a mosque for the engineers and crews, as well as a huge new area, spread over 1400 square kilometers, dotted with numerous bunkers for conventional and non-conventional weapons, with a capacity of more than 60,000 cubic meters. East of El-Suleil, outside of the photographed area, is a Saudi air force base, with two Tornado squadrons.
The huge missile base is made up of a support area and two launching areas, six kilometers apart, and are located in narrow hidden ravines.
In the support area, more than 33 buildings are visible. Eight of them are large enough to store the CSS-2 missiles, which are 24 meters long. The launching areas have a scattering of buildings, and a concrete launching pad.
In each of the two launching areas, an unidentified building can be seen, covered with dust, about 50 meters long, two underground storerooms for the missiles, two large support buildings, and garages.
In comparison to the photos from 1995, a sizable expansion can be seen in the administrative and residential areas. Command headquarters installations, residential areas, a large mosque, a soccer field, a large park, parking lots, etc., can be clearly seen. The take-off area of the local airport was increased to more than three kilometers.
The weapons storage area, spread over more than 1,400 kilometers, is too big to be connected only to a CSS-2 missile base, and apparently has other secret purposes. More than 60 fortified buildings for weapons storage can clearly be identified.
For a long time it was not clear to American intelligence where the Saudis were hiding their missiles. At first they thought that they were to be found at the El Haraj air force base complex, about 50 kilometers south of Riyadh. Only through intelligence information on the ground, and careful monitoring via satellites, led the CIA to the secret military city in El-Suleil. The photos from Iconus were received according to the coordinates located previously by American intelligence.
This updated information, which Israeli and American intelligence has had for a long time, is the cause of no little headache. All this became even more relevant after 9/11, when it became clear that anything, absolutely anything, could happen, and there are those who today regret the docile line Israel adopted towards Saudi Arabia under American pressure. Buying Up Every Adversary and All Opposition
The acquisition of missiles was part of a general Saudi military build-up, which at the beginning of the nineties turned it into the number one buyer of arms among third world countries, after Iraq.
The Washington administration felt betrayed. Only several years after the huge efforts made by President Reagan to approve the sale of AWACS warning planes to the Saudis, this deal suddenly appeared, in contrast to Riyadh's declared policy, apparently without any practical need.
The angry Americans asked for explanations. The Saudis said that they needed missiles to defend themselves from Iran (which was then considered to be the most serious regional threat), and that they had decided to acquire them from China, after the US refused to sell them F-15s in 1985. In the end they were sold 24 airplanes, but the missile project, said the Saudis, was already underway.
King Fahd made a commitment not to arm the missiles with chemical or nuclear warheads, and not to use them in an initial attack. In order to allay their concerns even more, Saudi Arabia signed a nuclear non-proliferation treaty. The king made a commitment not to take part in developing a nuclear bomb, and also promised that after the missiles were in place, all military activity would be stopped in the El-Suleil region.
Fahd, to put it nicely, did not exactly keep his word. The Saudis promised to allow American supervision of the site in El-Suleil, if Washington would promise that Israel would not attack them, but in the end refused to allow visits to the site.
Following the Gulf War, the Saudis became a kind of underdog, and succeeded in directing anger to other places, mainly Iran and Iraq. Even Israel, in conversations with other countries, did not raise the Saudi issue.
In 1990, when the missiles began to arrive in El-Suleil, Israel wanted to arouse a commotion, but the US was satisfied with Fahd's promises and instructed Israel to keep a low profile. Israel in turn sufficed with registering a protest, which was a drop in the ocean in contrast to the campaigns it led against countries such as Syria and Iraq.
In the case of Saudi Arabia, even when the details of its involvement in the Pakistan nuclear project became clear, even when it was obvious that it was financing terror organizations, even when it was proven without any doubt that the Saudi family was tainted to its roots with corruption and an unstoppable desire to rule, by buying up, in essence, every enemy and all opposition, the US remained silent and compelled Israel to do the same.
September 11 upset the applecart for the Saudis. Many in the US, both within and outside the administration, felt free to express what they had been keeping inside. About four months ago, chief Pentagon strategist Richard Perl said here: In my opinion, the Saudis are not part of the solution, but part of the problem
We had all the reasons to assume that they were grateful that we saved them in the Gulf War, and we were wrong.
In March 1988, two years after the deal was struck, it was discovered that Saudi Arabia had bought an undisclosed number of CSS-2 "East Wind" intermediate range missiles from China. (1) The number was later put at 50 missiles and nine launchers. (2) According to Assistant Secretary of State Richard Clarke, the missiles were still not operational in late 1989. (3) However, in early June 1990, Flight International reported that, according to Israeli intelligence, the CSS-2 missiles were deployed and operational at two sites: al-Sulaiyil, about 500 km south of Riyadh and al-Joffer, 100 km south of Riyadh. According to the article, each site houses four to six concrete launch pads and stores approximately 60 missiles. (4)
The East Wind's modified range/payload (5) of 2,500 km/2,000 kg (conventional load) brings many countries within striking range, including Israel, the former Soviet Union, and Iran, though the missiles are said to be targeted on Tehran and other Iranian population centers, rather than Israel.The 2.5 km CEP of the CSS-2 missiles, combined with the cost of the purchase (6) has led to a great deal of speculation about Saudi Arabia's intentions. The missiles are far too inaccurate to be used against any point target with either HE or chemical warheads. King Fahd has pledged that Saudi Arabia will not arm the missiles with unconventional warheads nor use them in a first-strike mode. (7) According to a study by the Congressional Research Service, the Reagan administration received an assurance in writing that the Saudis would not obtain or use chemical or nuclear warheads with the CSS-2 missiles. (8) To further allay such fears, Saudi Arabia signed the NPT in April 1988. To date (August 1996), no ballistic missiles other than the CSS-2 are reported to be operational or under development in Saudi Arabia.
None of the CSS-2s was fired during Desert Storm. In an interview with The Washington Times, Saudi Prince Bandar bin Sultan, acknowledging the inaccuracy of the CSS-2 and its consequent potential for killing civilians, said, "King Fahd ruled out that option [launching the missiles against Iraq] because of the fact that you cannot conrol it [the missiles] accurately. Our problem is that our war was not with the Iraqi people; it was with Saddam Hussein and his clique." (9) However, the multi-billion dollar King Khalid Military City is reported to include nuclear missile silos and nuclear-proofed underground command bunkers with full arming and firing capabilities. (10)
1. According to the Los Angeles Times, the sale was made in July 1985 (Jim Mann, "U.S. caught napping by Sino-Soviet missile deal," Los Angeles Times, 4 May 88, p. 1, 8).
2. The Los Angeles Times reported (ibid., p. 8) that Saudi Arabia had purchased between 20 and 25 CSS-2 missiles, of which China is thought to have produced no more than 100. Two days later The Washington Times claimed, "The most recent shipment of about 25 CSS-2s arrived last month, complementing the first shipment of about 25 sent from China last fall." (Bill Gertz, "State, Pentagon worry about Saudi missiles," The Washington Times, 12 May 88, p. A3) These figures differ substanially from the later claim, discussed below, that the Saudis had deployed four to six launchers and 60 missiles at each of two sites.
China maintains a small missile force suitable for attacking regional targets. The Css-2 intermediate range ballistic missile (IRBM) first became operational in 1971, has a range of about 3,000 kilometers (1.5 lines omitted) It is liquid-fueled and road-transportable."
The first stage of the TD-2 is said to bear a close resemblance to the Chinese CSS-2's and CSS-3's first stage, but is slightly smaller. Other reports suggest that the first stage of the Taep'o-dong-2 is almost identical to the Chinese CSS-2.
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I remember Reagan and the AWACs sale, was aware of the Saudi arms buildup, but never knew jack-squat about their missile program.
During the reporting period, Chinese entities provided Pakistan with missile-related technical assistance. Pakistan has been moving toward domestic serial production of solid-propellant SRBMs with Chinese help. Pakistan also needs continued Chinese assistance to support development of the two-stage Shaheen-II MRBM. In addition, firms in China have provided dual-use missile-related items, raw materials, and/or assistance to several other countries of proliferation concernsuch as Iran, North Korea, and Libya.
In the nuclear area, China has made bilateral pledges to the United States that go beyond its 1992 NPT commitment not to assist any country in the acquisition or development of nuclear weapons. For example, in May 1996 Beijing pledged that it would not provide assistance to unsafeguarded nuclear facilities.
With respect to Pakistan, Chinese entities in the past provided extensive support to unsafeguarded as well as safeguarded nuclear facilities, which enhanced substantially Pakistans nuclear weapons capability. We cannot rule out some continued contacts between Chinese entities and entities associated with Pakistans nuclear weapons program subsequent to Beijings 1996 pledge and during this reporting period.
I agree with you. The Saudis have grand delusions, and are likely to act upon them
OTOH, a few years back I worked at the US defense contractor which set up the Saudi air defense system, and got a good look at the "perfumed princes" that the Saudis have in their officer corps. I'm happiest at the thought that they would be on the OTHER side...
King Khalid Military City, built in the 80s, was US Designed, Supervised by the Corps of Engineers, etc. Hardly a secret.
Most air bases and radar sites were also US designed and built.
Squadrons and Squadrons of Saudi piloted planes threaten only sand dunes and anything in the glide path.
Because royals get first crack at being pilots, they have the largest cadre of totally untrainable pilots.These guys are in it for the uniform and rank. They refuse to be stationed anywhere other than the three large cities.
If they got Chinese missles, then they had to get the Chinese technicians and rocketeers because they could never launch with total Saudi control.
The whole article sounds like somebody couldn't get their shortwave working tonight and posted the script here instead.
Ever since September 11 it has been crystal clear that the Saudis are at the very heart of the Islamic threat. Once again, it seems to me that the only solution is to arrange some sort of coup, go in, and break the country in two.
One part for the oil, the other part for the holy places. The combination of control over the world's oil supply with Islamic fundamentalism is simply too dangerous.
There is too much power, too much fanaticism, too much economic control all concentrated in one place. A billion muslims, fanatical clerics, treacherous sheikhs, and oceans of money, all concentrated around Mecca. This cancer just can't be allowed to grow any further. I don't advocate that Bush should rush into anything. This situation is too dangerous for us to act with anything but extreme caution and careful preparation. But Saudi Arabia should be at the very center of Bush's long-range planning. If not, we will all pay a heavy price.
Watching it all unfold, I'm always wondering what info below our civilian radar is changing the equation. This missle story is plausible, and significant, if true...enough so that we've most likely already drawn a bead on their Star City, and Israel has also.
I'm thinking a premptive move, we checkmate the Axis of Evil in about 6 hours' time.
It also explains why the Saudi's have been handled with "kid gloves" in recent years.
For the war between the Wahabbi and the Shi'a?
Because royals get first crack at being pilots, they have the largest cadre of totally untrainable pilots.
I'm trying hard to regret the waste of beautiful aircraft, but am somehow LMAO.
After all, their checks did clear.