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former IAEA Director-General

Saudi Arabia Displays Missiles
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Kelsey Davenport

In an April 29 parade, Saudi Arabia publicly displayed two ballistic missiles that it purchased from China in the 1980s.

This display is Saudi Arabia’s first public acknowledgement of the purchase of Dong Feng-3 (DF-3) missiles.

It remains unclear how many missiles were part of the sale. Estimates range from 30 to 50.

The DF-3 was developed by the Chinese in the 1960s and first deployed in 1971. Saudi Arabia is not known to have tested a DF-3.

It is a liquid-fueled, single-stage missile with a range of about 3,000 kilometers for a 1,000-kilogram payload. It can carry nuclear weapons, but the missiles sold to the Saudis have conventional warheads. China reportedly provided guarantees to the United States that the missiles were modified to prevent them from ever being used to carry nuclear warheads.

The range of the DF-3 allows Saudi Arabia to target Iran. Some experts believe that Saudi Arabia may have displayed the DF-3 as a show of strength, given the hostile relationship between the two countries and Riyadh’s concern about Iran’s nuclear program.

Saudi Arabia reportedly purchased more-modern missiles from China, including the DF-21, a medium-range ballistic missile. No DF-21 missiles were displayed in the April parade. Reports of the sale first emerged in 2010.

The DF-21 is a two-stage, solid-fueled missile with a 2,000-kilometer range. China first deployed the DF-21 in 1991. It is considered a more reliable system than the DF-3, and its solid fuel makes it more mobile.

Posted: June 2, 2014