Attacks On Saudi Oil Facilities Foster Suspicions Of Use Of Quds Or Soumar Cruise Missiles

Quds-1 cruise missile

Artist's impression of Quds-1 cruise missile

H I Sutton (Author)

Images circulated after the attack on social media of the wreckage of what was claimed to be a missile in the Saudi desert. The date and location of the images could not be ascertained.

Iran does have a cruise missile that would fit the bill: the Soumar, which was revealed during a ceremony in March 2015. Externally it is almost identical to the distinctive Kh-55 missile, known as AS-15 Kent by NATO. This was developed during the Cold War as a nuclear-capable air-launched missile to arm Soviet strategic bombers. It’s still in service with the Russian Air Force. After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, some missiles ended up in Ukrainian hands. Iran allegedly received several of these Ukrainian examples on the black market in the early 2000s, hence the reverse-engineered Soumar missile. The Iranian copy is, however, armed with a conventional explosive warhead and is launched from a truck instead of a bomber.

Meanwhile the Houthis unveiled the similar Quds-1 missile on July 8. This missile bears an uncanny resemblance to the Soumar. Indeed, Iran has assisted Houthi forces, who belong to the same Shia branch of Islam, with missile and drone technology, so it was not surprising to see an advanced cruise missile in their possession. The family resemblance to the Soumar is unmistakable and can be stated with confidence, but it is a distinct missile. Closer examination of the images revealed that there are a number of detailed differences; the turbojet engine is of a smaller type, the fuselage is narrower, the wings are a simpler fixed design instead of the compact folding arrangement on the Iranian missile, and the launch booster is also a simpler design. We can infer from this that it has a smaller warhead and shorter range.

If the Quds missile was employed in the attack, it would not be its first use in anger. On June 10, a missile fired by Houthi forces from Yemen hit a terminal building at Abha Airport in southern Saudi Arabia, injuring 26 people. This weapon was subsequently identified as a ‘Quds’ cruise missile by a Houthi armed forces spokesperson, stating (in Arabic) that it had targeted the Saudi Coalition's military operations center and hangar at Abha Airport with great accuracy.

If they are indeed being employed, the Quds, or Soumar, may soon become a household name in the same way that the Falklands conflict brought us the Exocet and the Iran-Iraq War introduced us to the Silkworm missile.

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The attacks Saturday on the Abqaiq and Khurais oil facilities in Saudi Arabia have sent oil prices soaring. The assault was claimed by the Houthi movement (Ansar Allah), who have been fighting a bitter war with a Saudi-led coalition in Yemen since 2015. Unlike other Houthi missile attacks, the oil-processing plants, far away from Yemen in the northeast of Saudi Arabia, were hit in a coordinated attack, multiple times and with surgical precision. While initial reports stated that drones were used in the attack, one possible scenario, unconfirmed at the time of writing, is that Tomahawk-like cruise missiles were employed, fired either from Iran or an Iranian base in Iraq.

Images circulated after the attack on social media of the wreckage of what was claimed to be a missile in the Saudi desert. The date and location of the images could not be ascertained.

Iran does have a cruise missile that would fit the bill: the Soumar, which was revealed during a ceremony in March 2015. Externally it is almost identical to the distinctive Kh-55 missile, known as AS-15 Kent by NATO. This was developed during the Cold War as a nuclear-capable air-launched missile to arm Soviet strategic bombers. It’s still in service with the Russian Air Force. After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, some missiles ended up in Ukrainian hands. Iran allegedly received several of these Ukrainian examples on the black market in the early 2000s, hence the reverse-engineered Soumar missile. The Iranian copy is, however, armed with a conventional explosive warhead and is launched from a truck instead of a bomber.

Meanwhile the Houthis unveiled the similar Quds-1 missile on July 8. This missile bears an uncanny resemblance to the Soumar. Indeed, Iran has assisted Houthi forces, who belong to the same Shia branch of Islam, with missile and drone technology, so it was not surprising to see an advanced cruise missile in their possession. The family resemblance to the Soumar is unmistakable and can be stated with confidence, but it is a distinct missile. Closer examination of the images revealed that there are a number of detailed differences; the turbojet engine is of a smaller type, the fuselage is narrower, the wings are a simpler fixed design instead of the compact folding arrangement on the Iranian missile, and the launch booster is also a simpler design. We can infer from this that it has a smaller warhead and shorter range.

If the Quds missile was employed in the attack, it would not be its first use in anger. On June 10, a missile fired by Houthi forces from Yemen hit a terminal building at Abha Airport in southern Saudi Arabia, injuring 26 people. This weapon was subsequently identified as a ‘Quds’ cruise missile by a Houthi armed forces spokesperson, stating (in Arabic) that it had targeted the Saudi Coalition's military operations center and hangar at Abha Airport with great accuracy.

If they are indeed being employed, the Quds, or Soumar, may soon become a household name in the same way that the Falklands conflict brought us the Exocet and the Iran-Iraq War introduced us to the Silkworm missile.