On 4 November 2017, Houthi rebels fired a Burqan 2H (a variant of the SCUD) ballistic missile from Yemeni territory aimed at Riyadh International Airport in Saudi Arabia. The Saudis claimed to have intercepted the missile before it hit using a U.S.-made Patriot PAC-2 ballistic missile defense (BMD) system.
A team of independent analysts have challenged that claim, however. Led by Jeffery Lewis, Director of the East Asia Nonproliferation Program at the Middleberry Institute of International Studies at Monterey, the team analyzed video of an impact near the Riyadh Airport and scattered missile debris. Based on this evidence, they concluded that five Saudi Patriot BMD missiles failed to intercept the incoming missile and that its warhead detonated on the ground just a kilometer away from a busy airport terminal.
The apparent failure of the Patriot BMD continues a string of operational disappointments that extends back to the 1991 Gulf War. Intended for terminal BMD against short and medium range ballistic missile threats, the Patriot forms part of the layered U.S. BMD system, and has also been sold to 14 other countries, including South Korea and Japan.
The credibility of U.S. and regional military defenses against North Korea rests significantly on perceptions of the effectiveness of U.S-made BMD. As President Donald Trump boasted the day after the alleged Saudi missile intercept, “Our [Patriot] system knocked the missile out of the air… That’s how good we are. Nobody makes what we make, and now we’re selling it all over the world.”