Jeffrey LewisSaudi Storm Shadow Sale Confirmed

Thanks to Wikileaks (not work safe!), we now know that the UK did, in fact, sell the Storm Shadow cruise missile — an MTCR category I system if I’ve ever seen one — to Saudi Arabia.

LtG Abdulrahman Al-Faisal, Commander of the Royal Saudi Air Force, confirmed the sale to US Assistant Secretary for Political-Military Affairs Andrew Shapiro in October 2009.

Regular readers know that I have long believed that the UK sold the Storm Shadow cruise missile to Saudi Arabia, despite the fact that Storm Shadow ought to be considered a Category I MTCR system.

The circumstantial evidence was compelling: A photographer in April 2007 captured a Saudi aircraft carrying a Storm Shadow cruise missile in the UK.  (The aircraft was in the UK for an upgrade under the Tornado Sustainment Program so this was sort of a test-drive.)  When BAE announced  “significant incremental orders totalling £1.2bn” in late 2009, most industry observers concluded the Storm Shadow deal had been done.

Still, neither the Saudi or UK governments had officially confirmed the sale. And the UK media was strangely uninterested in reporting a violation of the UK’s admittedly voluntary commitments under the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR).

A Saudi official, however, was perfectly happy to inform the US about the impending sale, largely in the hopes of pressuring the US to include an American cruise missile, the SLAM-ER, in the F-15 package it was negotiating. In October 2009, LtG Abdulrahman Al-Faisal, Commander of the Royal Saudi Air Force, told Assistant Secretary for Political-Military Affairs Andrew Shapiro that Saudi Arabia that he “loved the F-15s but without the best weapons and full capability, it’s not much help.”

Faisal then made clear that “the best weapons and full capability” meant the SLAM-ER.  As part of his pitch, Faisal pointed out that the UK has already agreed to sell Saudi Arabia the Storm Shadow, which is much more lethal than SLAM-ER:

Saudi Arabia, LtG Al-Faisal commented, now needs an aircraft to counter its new main threat, which is from Iran. Yemen is also a growing challenge, which is why the RSAF is seeking small diameter bombs. He also mentioned the SLAM-ER missile, noting that the U.S. has provided these to Korea. Saudi Arabia, he said, will be acquiring the Storm Shadow from the UK, a missile with a longer range and greater lethality than the SLAM-ER – making it hard for the RSAF to understand the U.S. logic in withholding the SLAM-ER. [Emphasis added.]

As far as I can tell, the Obama Administration did not offer SLAM-ER to Saudi Arabia.  I have to imagine the folks at Boeing are pretty sore about that.  And who can blame them?  Although I agree with the principle of not selling SLAM-ER in the Middle East, what’s the point if, as Faisal told Shapiro, if “Britain, France, and others are giving us everything we want.”

The Yemenis, by the way, must be delighted to learn that Storm Shadow is intended for them, as well as for Iran.


  1. George William Herbert (History)

    Yemen’s mentioned only as a possible SDB target. I think they’re thinking there of a manned analog to the US Predator strikes. SDB is almost a third of the cost ($60k vs $170k roughly) of laser Brimstone, which only the Tornados could use now.

  2. Yawn (History)

    Or this can be a case of the Saudis demanding rights to retrofit the Storm Shadow on to the F-15s? The US has tended to be very rigid on allowing modification of their weapon systems.

    Otherwise, there’s little point in having two similar systems. Their Tornadoes could be pensioned off after a decade and despite plans for a Tranche-3 upgrade, the Eurofighter is unlikely to be the platform of choice of long-range strike. That leaves the F-15SA.

  3. Amir (History)

    Why these Saudis are this fool? What they can do with these missiles? Are they against Iran? In that case it is completely useless since their army is no independent (unlike Iran) and in serious conflict it will exhaust very fast. Who else they can use this toys against?! I really wonder why they waist their money by buying useless arms instead they have to invest in military/industrial infrastructure, education and research so became self sufficient and powerful in 20-40 years

  4. Bruno (History)

    I wonder if BAe would sold the Storm Shadow (which is cat 1) or a variant with a range/payload taht puts it in category 2. I am sure Washington and London came to terms on such a transfer before it was even proposed to the Saudis.
    My two cents obviously.

  5. Kutie (History)

    Al-Faisal should learn that SLAM-ER has longer range than Storm Shadow. also SLAM-ER is faster than Storm Shadow. It has same navigation systems with SS. SLAM-ER can be controlled via a datalink pod (Optional). SS can be used only on static targets.

  6. Aaron (History)

    Dennis Gormley went into this sale in depth in his book Missile Contagion: Cruise Missile Proliferation and the Threat to International Security. It seems that there was an agreement to limit the range to make the missile conform to Cat. 2 restrictions. Though, I am not sure that really matters when one considers the precedent of selling a category 1 capable system to KSA.

    • Jeffrey (History)

      Well, Dennis went into the sale of the same system to the UAE. This is a different sale of the same missile.

  7. Sam (History)

    For the not-experts: is this considered a violation of MTCR? What happens in such a case? Is this a big deal?

    • Bruno (History)

      Violation of the MTCR would be the export of a cruise or ballistic missile with a range/payload couple greater than 300km/500kg. Tradeoffs between payload mass and range are to be taken into account in assessing if a missile is in category 1 or not.
      It is a big political deal but not a legal issue.. So finally it depends on whether you consider that you are a responsible State or not.

    • rwendland (History)

      Actually, the MTCR wording say it controls “unmanned air vehicles” not cruise missiles, a wider category including cruise missiles. And it covers components as well as complete systems.

      Another MTCR “violation” on the cruise missile-ish front seems to be the Canadian export of the Pratt & Whitney PT6 engine for the IAI Eitan, a heavy UAV in service 2010, first prototype flight 2004-ish. Prima facie this seems a Category II 3.A.1.b & 3.A.9 violation, but I have never noticed this raised by the media – have academics looked into this? Am I mistaken?

      The IAI Eitan has a payload of 1000kg+ and a range of 1000km+ (some claim 7400km), and designed for deep penetration roles. It’s a multi mission payload system. Clearly in MTCR UAV territory. calls it “the second largest operational UAV in the world”.

      Although mainly for ISTAR, Israeli officials are quoted as saying it has been tested for “all kinds of payloads, in all kinds of configuration schemes” including long-range strike. quotes an IAF officer briefing “the Eitan is designed to carry out a wide range of missions, from those similar to other UAVs, to brand new missions that are exclusive for this vehicle, given its unique combination of range, endurance and payload.”

      Although it may not be a sensible use given Israel’s other delivery options, on paper a nuclear payload looks a realistic option.

      So why has there seemingly been no fuss about this apparent MTCR “violation”? In may only be a category II item where “partners have greater flexibility”, but it is to a non-NNPT state with nuclear weapons, which should be the very brightest of red flags. This is no great example to others on how the MTCR is to be applied.

    • Bruno (History)

      Agree the Regime covers all Unmaned Air Vehicle as well as components, tools and technologies associated (to be quite complete).
      In fact, technically, an air breathing engine can fall into catI (because it could be use as a complete sub-system in a catI complete missile).
      The guidelines are pretty straight forward on category I items : “Particular restraint will be exercised in the consideration of Category I transfers regardless of their purpose, and there will be a strong presumption to deny such transfers.”
      Category II are to be submitted to export control and special scrutiny, so again – the case of cat I being apart – it all comes back to how reponsible you are and how efficient your export control mechanisms.

    • rwendland (History)

      There is an interesting presentation on US/UK efforts to get ISR-type UAVs (called UAS), like Global Hawks, removed from Cat 1 MTCR here:

      “U.S. and Multilateral Export Controls on UAS Transfers, Gregory M. Suchan Senior Associate NDIA-NIPO, November 15, 2011”

      One of the tactics suggested in that presentation is to downgrade performance to below Cat. 1 level, as done with the Black Shaheen.

      There are media reports that South Korea’s plan to acquire four Global Hawks is moving forward. That of couse would be the sale of a Cat. 1 MTCR item to a non MTCR partner.

  8. biz (History)

    I have a vision of these things mouldering away in some bunker or warehouse somewhere eventually being discovered by whoever overthrows the saudi regime,you`d think the house of saud would have better ways of squandering its countries money

  9. Pieter (History)

    Actually Mr Al Faisal only says that Saudi Arabia ‘will’ acquire Storm Shadow…
    But,SIPRI claims its a deal.
    And that is because the producers tell us more. As mentioned in an earlier post Italian Finmeccanica reported a 2009 export order for Storm Shadow for an unnamed country and in June 2011 MBDA tells us that ‘Qualified on the Tornado GR4, Mirage 2000 and the Rafale, Storm Shadow / SCALP is currently in service with the air forces of six nations.’, mentioning Italy, Greece, UK, France, the UAE. Saudi Arabia must be the mystery user.

    Saudi A. using cruise missiles against Yemeni rebels would just be following the US example:

    But that’s all a bit old news. In the meantime Turkey thinks bigger. It wants to develop 2500 km range ballistic missiles. But that’s NATO so that must be OK.

  10. @FHeisbourg (History)

    My assumption-but it’s only an assumption- is that the UK, in consultation with the US, would have taylored the Saudi SS to the same sort of specs as those for the Emirati “Black Shaheen”, itself a close relative of Storm Shadow/SCALP EG.
    François Heisbourg

    • Jeffrey (History)

      I assume that same thing, but the US position has been the Black Shaheen remained a Category I system despite the reduced range. (The US intelligence community reports a range of 300+ miles, or 500 kilometers, for SCALP/Storm Shadow and 250+ miles, or 400 kilometers, for Black Shaheen — presumably in both cases using the actual payload, which I believes weighs quite a bit less than the MTCR standard of 500 kg.)

      I’ve been trying to determine the precise cause of the US objection — whether the issue remains how to calculate the range (sea-level vs. the most efficient flight profile) or whether the US simply objected that the modifications were too easily reversed.

    • P (History)

      Seems to me the US objection against selling Storm Shadow type cruise missiles to Saudi Arabia has little to do with MTCR and everything with the QME. I.e. preventing Saudi A. from getting weapons against which Israel would find a hard to defend itself. Somehow the US has come to the conclusion that supplying latest USD30 bn worth of generation F-15SA (which will make the folks at Boeing a bit less sore) poses no threat to Israel as long as they omit the longer range stand off weapons.
      At the same time USA has no problem with supplying SLAM-ER to South Korea and Turkey.

  11. George William Herbert (History)

    A Cat 1 item, but the Guidelines criteria for ensuring risk of WMD delivery mechanism is minimized are fairly easy to meet for a Global Hawk.

    From the guidelines:
    “A. Concerns about the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction;

    B. The capabilities and objectives of the missile and space programs of the recipient state;

    C. The significance of the transfer in terms of the potential development of delivery systems (other than manned aircraft) for weapons of mass destruction;

    D. The assessment of the end use of the transfers, including the relevant assurances of the recipient states referred to in sub paragraphs 5.A and 5.B below;

    E. The applicability of relevant multilateral agreements.

    F. The risk of controlled items falling into the hands of terrorist groups and individuals.”