Fresh satellite images taken by US-based private Earth imaging company Planet Labs Inc. suggest that Saudi Arabia has built a factory to make domestically produced ballistic missiles, nuclear arms specialist Jeffrey Lewis, who made the discovery, told The Washington Post.
The facility is said to be located at the same remote Al-Watah missile base about 200 km southwest of Riyadh which houses foreign-bought missiles in Saudi Arabia's arsenal. Speaking to The Post, Lewis, a nuclear arms specialist at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies, said the satellite images raise "the possibility that Saudi Arabia is going to build longer-range missiles and seek nuclear weapons."
From bone-saws to ballistic missiles. Satellite images taken by @planetlabs seem to show that Saudi Arabia has constructed a solid-fuel missile plant. Story by @PaulSonne. Analysis by yours truly, @missile_manyak and @DaveSchmerler.https://t.co/wGJgHWdSPV pic.twitter.com/eMhSnBiexE— Jeffrey Lewis (@ArmsControlWonk) 23 января 2019 г.
The US "may be underestimating [Riyadh's] desire and their capabilities" to produce home-made missiles, Lewis added.
David Schmerler, an analyst who helped discover the Al-Watah base, told al-Jazeera that the new possible factory seems to confirm Saudi intentions to build missiles.
"We were monitoring a site that was previously associated with being a Saudi missile base, and as we continued to monitor the site we noticed…the construction of buildings related to the testing and production of solid fuel ballistic missiles," Schmerler explained.
"We haven't really seen this type of construction activity elsewhere in Saudi Arabia, and Saudi Arabia does not have any other large-scale solid fuel production facilities in the country, so this would be a significant leap forward for them being able to develop their own domestic missile programme," he added.
Riyadh is yet to comment on the media reports about the alleged missile factory.
In addition to its arsenal of US-made air-launched missiles and bombs of various ranges and classes, Riyadh is known to possess a stock of Chinese missiles, including the DF-3A intermediate-range nuclear-capable ballistic missile, which Saudi Arabia unveiled at a parade in 2014. According to media reports, the CIA also helped Riyadh to secure improved Chinese DF-21 medium-range ballistic missiles in 2007. Sputnik has also reported extensively on the presumably aborted Saudi talks with Ukraine regarding the purchase of the Grom-2, a new tactical short-range ballistic missile system developed by the Yuzhnoye Design Bureau.