The Saudi-led Arab Coalition has foiled an attempted terrorist drone attack on Saudi Arabia’s Abha airport on May 26, 2018. According to the coalition, they have intercepted and destroyed an unmanned aerial aircraft that approached Abha airport. The Abha airport is not far from the military airport near Khamis Mushait.
The Iranian-backed Houthi rebels said its drones had bombarded Abha International Airport in the kingdom’s southwestern province of Asir, inflicting damage upon it. The Houthis warned that they would increase such retaliatory attacks against Saudi bases and facilities in the near future.
The Yemeni government accused Iran of supplying the Houthi rebels with drones used for cross-border attacks into Saudi Arabia.
On April 11, 2018, Houthi rebels launched a drone strike on a facility belonging to oil giant Saudi Aramco in southern Saudi Arabia. Saudi Aramco is building a 400,000-barrel-per-day refinery in Jizan, part of a new economic city on the Red Sea. The refinery is expected to become fully operational in 2019.
The Houthis’ Al-Masirah TV channel reported that: “The air force announced the execution of air strikes with the Qasef-1 aircraft on Aramco in Jizan (province).”
On April 18, 2018, the UAE military said it had “intercepted” an “explosive-laden” Qasef-1 Houthi drone, of Iranian manufacture, in the skies over Yemen. The drone had been targeting Yemeni army positions along Yemen's Red Sea Coast. The UAE is a leading member of the Saudi-led military coalition cobbled together in 2015 to fight the Houthis.
On February 23, 2018, the Houthi al-Masirah TV reported that the Houthi Air Force and the Missile Forces had conducted a joint operation and destroyed a MIM-104 Patriot PAC-3 air defense system and a headquarter of the UAE Army in the central Yemeni province of Ma’rib.
According to al-Masirah, Houthi forces attacked the UAE Army Patriot PAC-3 system with “a swarm of unmanned aerial vehicles [UAVs],” while the UAE Army headquarters was targeted with several ballistic missiles launched by the Yemeni Missile Forces.
The Saudi-led coalition immediately announced that its air defenses in Yemen had intercepted two ballistic missiles, which had been launched by the Houthis over the center of Ma’rib province. However, the collation didn’t report shooting down any UAVs of the Houthis.
Emirati officials indicated that the Houthis are using the“Qasef-1” drone as kamikaze vehicles in a bid to damage the radar stations utilized by US-made Patriot surface-to-air missile batteries.
The “Qasef-1” Drone
The Houthis are using a type of suicide drone named “Qasef-1” to conduct attacks in Yemen and Saudi Arabia. The Qasef-1 is a copy of the Iranian-made “Ababil-2” drone, produced by Iran’s Airca Manufacturing Industrial Company, armed with a 30kg warhead.
The Houthis said in 2017 that they had manufactured four types of drones domestically, one of them is the Qasef-1. The group could have outfitted them with explosives or used them for surveillance.
The Saudi-backed Yemen government said the drones are “made in Iran,” adding that Yemen's military did not possess such aircraft and it was “impossible to manufacture them locally.”
The Saudi-led coalition claimed that Iran had transferred suicide drone technology to the Houthis. They based their analysis on seven drones captured in Marib governorate.
Six partially-assembled Qasef-1 drones were intercepted by the UAE armed forces in Marib on November 27, 2016, after allegedly being smuggled through Oman into Yemen. The smuggled drones were missing their nose cones as well as their engines. This may indicate that different components are sent separately. The seventh drone crash-landed near Aden’s airport, according to UAE forces.
The serial number prefix of the intercepted drones was identical to the prefix of Iran’s Ababil variants. The gyroscopes in the drones had a serial number close to an Iranian Ababil drone used by Iranian-backed militia forces in Iraq.
Saudi Arabia and a coalition of mostly Gulf Arab states intervened in Yemen’s civil war in 2015 to try and push back the Houthis after the movement drove the internationally recognized government into Saudi exile. Iran backs the Houthis who seized the capital Sanaa in 2014, but Tehran has denied arming the rebels, which would violate a UN weapons embargo placed in 2015.
Yemen’s Houthi militia has begun employing UAVs to strike positions affiliated with the Yemeni government and a Saudi-led Arab coalition, and since April 2018, they attempted to strike targets in Saudi territory. The Houthis claimed that the Qasef-1 drone is an indigenous design and construction, but experts said that the drones were supplied by Iran – charges the group and Tehran deny.