US establishes crack 'anti-drone' team in Saudi Arabia amid Houthi threat to oil fields

US establishes crack 'anti-drone' team in Saudi Arabia amid Houthi threat to oil fields
It follows drone attacks on Saudi targets and US interests in the region over the past few years, often originating from Iran-backed groups.
2 min read
15 September, 2022
Prince Sultan Air Base is located near the city of al-Kharj, southeast of Saudi Arabia's capital Riyadh [Getty]

The US military has established an 'anti-drone' team at Saudi Arabia's Prince Sultan Air Base (PSAB) dedicated to combating the growing threat from unmanned drones in the region, according to reports. 

The base - comprised of both the Saudi and US forces - will be used to test and operate new technologies to "help secure PSAB’s airspace from potential UAS (Unmanned Aircraft Systems) threats", according to a statement from the United States Air Combat Command

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"Comprised of active duty, reserve component and National Guard Airmen and Soldiers, the newly formed base area defence crew, or BADC is responsible for operating several air defence command and control systems to counter UAS threats," the statement added. 

Saudi Arabia was likely chosen to host this specialist team as it has large spaces owned by the government where it is possible to test various warfare methods without affecting civilians, according to an article from NBC News last week.

The kingdom has also been a repeated target of drone and missile attacks by Iran-backed Houthi rebels and suspected Iraqi militias. 

"With the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia as the centre of gravity for many future regional security endeavours, this is an opportunity," a US defence official was quoted as saying by the American news outlet.

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The Houthis claimed responsibility for a drone attack on state-owned Aramco oil processing facilities in 2019, forcing Saudi Arabia to cut its oil production by half at the time.

Drones were also used in multiple attacks on Abu Dhabi in January.

Fighting in Yemen has decreased since an April truce was agreed, with hopes of a permanent ceasefire.

Saudi Arabia led an Arab coalition to intervene in the Yemen war in 2015, after a Houthi takeover of the capital Sanaa in September 2014 which forced the government to flee south.

The Houthi rebels are aligned with Iran, Saudi Arabia's arch-rival in the region, although there has been a concerted effort for reconciliation between Riyadh and Tehran in recent months.