Thursday, 20 August 2015
Houthis continue to fire ballistic missiles at Saudi Arabia
By Stijn Mitzer and Joost Oliemans
After launching a R-17 Elbrus/Hwasŏng-5/6 (Scud-B) on the 6th of June 2015 against Khamis Mushait in Saudi Arabia and another R-17 Elbrus/Hwasŏng-5/6 against al-Sulayyil missile base on the 29th of June 2015, elements of the Yemeni Army loyal to former president Ali Abdullah Saleh and the Houthis again fired a ballistic missile at Saudi territory. This operation, carried out on the 20th of August 2015, saw a Tochka missile being fired at the Saudi Naval Base near Jizan, the results of which remain as of yet unknown.
Although all of Yemen's Transporter Erector Launchers (TEL) used for launching ballistic missiles were thought to have been destroyed along with the existing stock of R-17 Elbrus, Hwasŏng-5/6 and Tochka missiles at the site housing the Group of Missile Forces of the Armed Forces of the Republic of Yemen, footage coming out of Yemen's 'Amran Governorate on the 17th of May 2015 showed a battered but intact MAZ-543 TEL transported towards the Saudi border in broad daylight. This confirmed the rumours that some TELs were hidden away from the ballistic missile site in order to escape destruction by Coalition airstrikes.
Despite the fact that the TEL missed two of its wheels, it apparently succeeded in launching two missiles against Saudi territory. Both of the missiles were succesfully intercepted by Patriot batteries of the Royal Saudi Air Defense however, resulting in the destruction of both missiles before hitting their intended targets. The single MAZ-543 TEL was then said to have been destroyed by Coalition airstrikes, which explains the fact that that no R-17 Elbrus/Hwasŏng-5/6 has been launched since.
Despite this, sources claimed that no less than twenty ballistic missiles were fired at Saudi territory, only 40 percent of which intercepted by the Royal Saudi Air Defense Patriot batteries. These additional launches have not taken place however, and the official might have been confused by counting 122mm BM-21, 220mm BM-27 and DIY al-Najim al-Thaqib rocket strikes as ballistic missile strikes.
Other reports stated that the Royal Saudi Air Force (RSAF) commander Muhammad bin Ahmed al-Shaalan was killed when a R-17 Elbrus/Hwasŏng-5/6 missile hit Khamis Mushait, although he actually passed away due to a heart attack while on a work trip abroad. The to be expected 'dozens of Israeli officers alongside dozens of Saudi counterparts were killed when a Scud missile hit Khamis Mushait' rhetoric deserves no further attention.
As with the filmed R-17 Elbrus/Hwasŏng-5/6 launch, great effort has been put into hiding the exact location of the launcher, which has to be very close to the Saudi border considering the limited range of Yemen's Tochka missiles. The OTR-21 launcher itself must have been transported up North in the previous weeks or months, remaining out of sight of the Coalition's aircraft. The launcher, reading the Houthi's slogan of 'Death to America, Death to Israel, Cursed be the Jews and Victory for Islam' (which can also be heard in both launch videos), appears completely intact.
It is unknown how large the Houthi's stock of Tochka missiles still is, but given the fact the Houthis already managed to transport a R-17 Elbrus/Hwasŏng-5/6 missile to its associated TEL twice, only constant monitoring of the roads in Northern Yemen will prevent further launches. Alternatively, more Tochka missiles are already present at the launch site, requiring destruction of the TEL to prevent any further launches.
The sudden appearance of the OTR-21 came completely unexpected, and makes one wonder if this is the last of the intact launchers. However, due to the Tochka's limited range, other major Saudi cities remain out of firing range. Although looking impressive, the launch mainly serves as a propaganda stunt, and will in no way deter the Coalition to abandon its campaign.
Are Yemen's Houthis still capable of launching ballistic missiles?
Saudi aircraft demolish Yemeni ballistic missile site