Saudi Arabia is building its own fleet of ballistic missiles with assistance from China, CNN reported Thursday, citing US intelligence sources.
While it was known that the kingdom had purchased missiles from China, satellite images obtained by the network purportedly show that Saudi Arabia is manufacturing the weapons in at least one facility as well.
US intelligence officials have been briefed on the issue and shown evidence of “multiple large-scale transfers of sensitive ballistic missile technology” between the Saudis and the Chinese, according to CNN.
If confirmed, the news could throw a wrench in the Biden administration’s goal of restraining Iran’s weapons manufacturing with the help of Tehran’s longtime rivals in Riyadh.
China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement to CNN that it is working with Saudi Arabia as “comprehensive strategic partners,” maintaining that “such cooperation does not violate any international law and does not involve the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.”
Researchers at Middlebury’s Institute of International Studies who reviewed the satellite images told CNN they were “unambiguous evidence that the facility is operating to produce missiles.” The researchers said the images showed a “burn pit,” suggesting a need to dispose of material from ballistic missile production.
“Casting rocket motors results in leftover propellant, which is an explosive hazard. Solid-propellant missile production facilities often have burn pits where leftover propellant can be disposed of by burning,” researcher Jeffrey Lewis told the outlet. “Burn operations are, therefore, a strong signature that the facility is actively casting solid rocket motors.”
The images, however, don’t reveal much about how far the alleged missiles could travel, who designed them, or how much ballistic material they might carry.
Saudi Arabia asked the United States this month for urgent help with replenishing Riyadh’s missile defense weaponry, which it says is running dangerously low.
Officials asked the U.S. to sell it scores of interceptors used to shoot down airborne weapons. The interceptors are manufactured by Massachusetts-based Raytheon Technologies and cost about $1 million apiece.