WASHINGTON/RIYADH – During his September 20 visit to Saudi Arabia, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo gave an awkward answer to the question why the American Patriot systems didn’t intercept the Houthi UAVs in Saudi Arabia. He said that “it happens”. Moreover, Riyadh has 88 American systems in service, creating a nominally impregnable fortress. Still, the system proved to be a failure. On top of that, despite claims that they have restored oil production, it turns out, in order to ensure uninterrupted supplies to their customers, for the very first time, Saudi Arabia has to purchase oil for itself.
The real reason as to why the US systems aren’t properly working could very well be the US military doctrine and how it’s supposed to work. With nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction excluded, America is far ahead of the rest of the world when it comes to power projection. Which means that America’s doctrine is highly offensive-oriented. Since Pearl Harbor, the US troops have never found themselves in a situation where the enemy had an absolute or at least partial air superiority. This continues to affect the quality of America’s air defense systems.
Russia, on the other hand, has a completely different doctrine. Despite having the second most powerful air force and either the second or the third most powerful navy, Russia, in its essence, is a land power. And the entire military doctrine of Russia is built around this fact. The Russian Aerospace Force’s primary mission is to ensure a layered and highly integrated defense of Russia’s massive airspace, with some limited offensive capabilities.
The key component of this doctrine is an almost impenetrable, layered air defense system. Along with advanced extreme/very long and mid-to-long range air defenses, Russia also developed the world’s best short-range/point defense systems. These systems are crucial in the new environment of advanced, stealthy precision-guided munitions, which are known for using the terrain to their advantage.
Without these systems (such as the legendary ZSU-23-4 Shilka and 2K22 Tunguska, and the modern ones, such as the Pantsir and its variants) medium and long-range platforms (such as the Buk- M1/2/3, S-300 or S-400) would have been in jeopardy. Except for the various systems in the United States Navy, the American military doctrine regarding advanced short-range/point defense is virtually non-existent.
Interestingly, Saudis claim they have evidence of Iran attacking their oil facilities from the north/northeast. Even if true, it’s hard to say what would be worse for the reputation of US air defense systems. A) The Houthis destroying such important Saudi facilities by using makeshift drones, completely undetected and unopposed. Or B) Iranians managing to slip through the whole Saudi air defenses completely undetected and destroying key infrastructure. Of course, provided that the alleged Iranian attack from the north/northeast actually took place.