Yemen's Houthi Missile Capabilities(Video)

Sheba Intelligence | 2023-11-08 03:00 PM UTC



   The Yemen's Ansar Allah (Houthi) group's announcement of launching missiles towards Israel once again shed light on the missile capabilities of this Iranian-backed armed group. Over the past twenty years of war with Yemen government forces, how did the Houthis come to possess ballistic missiles that could travel a distance of two thousand kilometers?


This investigation will dig deep into the Houthis' missile capabilities. It will answer important questions, including: What types of missiles do the Houthis possess? What is the range, length, speed, accuracy, type of fuel, guidance system, weight of the missile, explosive warhead, and the original version of the missile? How did the Houthis obtain ballistic missiles? Who helped them develop and maintain the missiles so their ranges and explosive capacity would be bigger? Who runs the Houthi missile system?

This investigation and a previous in-depth report on Houthi air force capabilities run by Sheba Intelligence offer a deep insight into the Houthi military capabilities.


Types of Houthi missiles

The Houthis displayed about 32 models of various missiles in September 2023, of which eight the group claimed were new versions, but not all of the missiles they possess have labels because they were never being used. The display of those missiles could be part of war propaganda.


The Houthis declared in late October and November this year that they fired several drones and missiles at Israel. In September 2019, they launched a drone attack on Aramco in Saudi Arabia, and they launched another attack on Abu Dhabi in 2020. Iran was accused of being behind all those Houthi drone and missile assaults. This shows the Houthi-controlled territories as a missile launch pad at Iran's disposal.


This investigation covers about 30 types of Houthi missiles. The missiles have three ranges: short, middle, and long and air defense missiles. Details about the kinds of missiles are given in three tables.

Multiple sources were utilized to obtain technical and operational specifications, such as reports, including the report of the United Nations Committee of Experts, reports on Russian and Chinese missiles that Yemen owned or were entered by smuggling, and published security reports on Houthi missiles that targeted government-controlled areas over the past years.



The story of Houthi missiles

In 2004, the Houthi group appeared as an armed rebel group fighting the Yemeni army in Saada, the birthplace of its founder, Hussein Badr al-Din al-Houthi. The group received Iranian support and sponsorship after the killing of its founder, and it continued fighting against the Yemeni army.


When the Arab Spring broke out in Yemen against the regime of late President Ali Abdullah Saleh in 2011, it capitalized on the events and presented itself as an anti-regime revolutionary group. However, it later allied itself with the General People's Congress, a ruling party led by Saleh for decades. After Saleh stepped down in 2012, according to the Gulf Initiative, the Houthi group and Saleh organized a coup and toppled the Yemeni state in 2014. As time passed, the Houthi-Saleh alliance began to collapse. In 2017, the Houthi group killed Saleh and defeated his forces after a few days of clashes in Sanaa. Therefore, the group inherited all the military capabilities of the Yemeni state, including missile depots. It also received significant Iranian support, including missiles of Iranian versions, and could smuggle many types of missiles into Yemen.




The Houthis were initially unable to deal with the Yemeni army's stockpile of missiles and were unable to find missile fuel. But two main factors helped them deal with such a challenge:


The first factor: Attracting military leaders specialized in missiles, especially from the missile brigades in the Republican Guard that was affiliated with former President Ali Abdullah Saleh, including Major General  Muhammad Nasser Al-Atefi   Muhammad Nasser Al-Atefi, who became Minister of Defense in the Houthi government in 2018. Al-Atefi began years ago as the commander of a surface-to-surface missile battery and became Chief of Staff of the Surface-to-Surface Missile Battalion (Tushka), then the Chief of Staff of the 6th Scud Missile Brigade (R-17). He was appointed as the Chief of Staff of the 6th Scud Missile Brigade and promoted as the commander of the Sixth Missile Brigade and then the commander of the Missile Brigades Group. The Houthi group exploited such experienced individuals to know the country's missile depots, their locations, and the type of fuel.


The second factor: Bringing Iranian and Hezbollah experts who have sufficient experience in dealing with missiles, dismantling, assembling and developing them.


The main source of Houthi missiles

The Houthis seized the Yemeni army's stock of missiles. They also obtained Iranian missiles developed from Chinese and Russian types through smuggling or aerial delivery when they took control of the capital, Sana'a, in 2014.


First: The missiles of the Yemeni army

The Yemeni army had a diverse arsenal of missiles, most of which were Russian-made. The types of missiles are as follows:

-Surface-to-surface missiles: Russian Scud B, C and D missiles

-Tochka and Frog-7 missiles, in addition to Korean Hwasong-5 and Hwasong-6 missiles.

-Surface-to-air missiles: Russian missiles, the most important of which are the SAM-2, SAM-3, SAM-6, SAM-7, and the S-300 missile system.

-Air-to-surface missiles: Russian missiles are installed on Russian MiG aircraft that were in the arsenal of the Yemeni Air Force, and they are of the R-77, R-27, and R-73 type.

-Naval missiles: The most famous of them is the Chinese C-802 missile. after the war, the Houthis obtained Iranian C-102 missiles.


Second: Iranian missiles

The Houthis obtained many types of Iranian missiles through:

A - Smuggling during the six wars that took place between the Yemeni army and the Houthi group.

B - Sending missiles via Iranian air cargo planes after the Houthi coup in September 2014 and before the Saudi-led Operation Decisive Storm in March 2015. The most important of those missiles was the Iranian Qiam-1.

C - Smuggling from March 2015 until the beginning of the ceasefire that was announced in 2022. The missiles were smuggled into Yemen in parts and then reassembled and prepared for launch by Iranian experts inside Yemen.

D- Iranian missiles that entered through the port of Al-Hudaydah after the inspection mechanism stopped or was obstructed. The Houthis displayed in a military parade in September 2023 8 types of missiles, including Asif (Persian Gulf), Quds-2 (Ya Ali), and Karrar (Fateh-110).


Third: Iranian-upgraded Chinese and Russian missiles:

The Houthis obtained Chinese missiles, some of which were upgraded by Iran, through smuggling during the six wars that the group fought against the Yemeni army in Saada and parts of Al-Jawf and Amran provinces. After the group's takeover of Sanaa in September 2014, and also after the Decisive Storm that was announced in March 2015, the group kept getting many missiles.


 The most important of which were:

-Short-range ballistic missiles of the M-302 type, which is a Chinese missile from the WS family that was developed by Syria and which the Houthis called Badr missiles.

-The Iranian Qiam-1 missile (Burkan-2H) and the Qiam-2 missiles (Dhulfiqar/BUrkan-3), which are upgraded versions of the Scud missiles.

-The Iranian Soumar naval missile (Quds-1) is an upgraded version of the Russian Soumar missile.

-The Iranian SAM-358 (Saqr-1) missile, which is a Russian missile within the Pantsir air defense system.


Types of Houthi missiles in terms of precision:

The ballistic missiles that came under the control of the Houthis and their development in terms of their accuracy are divided into:

1-Very precise: It is known that winged missiles (land-sea) are very accurate, as they can evade radar because they fly at low altitudes and can maneuver to avoid obstacles and air defense systems. The ones that the Houthi possessed did not have these specifications, although they bear the same name (the winged missiles). The most important is the Quds-1 missile, which failed to hit the ship (NISSOS), which was anchored in the Dabbah oil terminal near Mukalla, to load crude oil on 10/21/2022.


2-Precise: Its accuracy rate is (3-20 metres), and it is a short-range ballistic missile (surface-to-surface). The guidance section has been added to the missile, and it has been equipped with electro-optical detectors, an inertial navigation system, and satellite navigation systems (GPS), in addition to installing four moving fins at the front of the missile, in addition to the use of drones which would approach the potential target to determine its location and photograph it to provide the missiles with images and sites with great accuracy. Among the most important of these missiles was the Badr-1P and Nakal missile. With such a type of missile, the Houthis attacked vital facilities and camps in Marib, Taiz, and Mokha, and it was not used to target cities in southern Saudi Arabia due to its short range.


3-Imprecise: Its accuracy rate in hitting the target is (500-2000 metres), which are medium-range ballistic missiles (surface-to-surface). The most important of these missiles are the Burkan-1, Burkan-2, Burkan-3 (Dhulfiqar), and Qiam-1.



Houthi missile development mechanism:

Since the Houthis took control of the capital, Sanaa, the airport and seaports in 2014, Iranian and Lebanese Hezbollah experts began arriving in Yemen. The main goal was to restructure the forces, train and arm them, and develop missile and drone capabilities so that the Houthis would constitute a fourth force threatening the Gulf oil states, especially Saudi Arabia.


The process of developing the missiles obtained by the Houthis was based on three paths:

1-Increasing the range by adding a fuel tank and reducing the warhead's weight: This was done on the Russian Scud B and C missiles that were in the Yemeni army's arsenal and called (Burkan-1 and Burkan-2). This was also done on the Korean Hwasong-5 and Hwasong-6 missiles.


2-Increasing the range of some Russian missiles and changing their function in terms of use: This was done on the SAM-2 and SAM-3 missiles called (Qaher and Qaher-2), where they were used against surface targets instead of air.


3- Adding a guidance system to some unguided missiles to improve their accuracy in hitting targets: This was done on Chinese missiles from the WS family, where the error rate in hitting the target became (3) meters instead of (40) meters.


Houthi missiles upgraded based on the original Russian missiles


The first table presents missiles developed based on the Russian SCUD-B missiles. It illustrates the following:

-These missiles are short-range tactical ballistic missiles.

-North Korea sold 120 HWASONG-5 missiles to Iran and also sold this type of missile to Libya, Yemen, Syria and the UAE.

-North Korea obtained its first SCUD-B missile from Egypt in 1980 in exchange for Korea's assistance to Egypt in its war against Israel in 1973.

- Iranian experts with the Houthi group increased the range of the Russian Scud B missiles and the Korean HWASONG-5 missiles by adding a fuel tank and reducing the weight of the warhead by half, creating what is known as Burkan-1 missiles.


The second table presents missiles developed based on the Russian SCUD-C missiles. It illustrates the following:

These missiles are short-range tactical ballistic missiles.

North Korea sold HWASONG-6 missiles to Iran, Yemen, Egypt, Syria, Cuba and Vietnam.


The third table presents missiles developed based on the Russian SCUD-D missiles. It illustrates the following:

-These missiles are medium-range ballistic missiles.

-There is a Korean missile called (RODWNG-1), also called (HWASONG-7).

-North Korea produced the RODWNG missile for Iran under the name Shihab-3 and for Pakistan under the name Ghauri.

-The Iranian Shahab-3 missile has two versions: Imad and Qader.

-The Korean missile (RODWNG-1) had an accuracy of hitting the target at the beginning of its production of about (2) km, and its accuracy was improved to reach 190 meters recently.

-The Iranian Shahab-3 missile was produced in an upgraded version under the name Sajeel-2, which has a range of up to 2,000 km.

-The Iranian Shahab-3 missile can carry (3) types of warheads with weights between 800 kg, 1000 kg and 1200 kg, which allows the missile to travel different distances, as the range ranges between 1300 km, 1500 km and 1700 km.

-The Houthi group announced for the first time the use of the Burkan-3 (Dhulfiqar) missile in 2020 when it announced that it had targeted areas in neighboring countries 1,440 km (900 miles) away from Yemen.


Stages of Russian missile development

- North Korea produced Russian Scud missiles of the B-C-D category, which they obtained from Russia or other countries such as Egypt through reverse engineering as a first stage. Then, it gave them different names, such as (Hwasong-5,6,7), and upgraded them by increasing the range, adding a fuel tank, reducing the warhead's weight, and reducing the error rate (CEP).


-In the second stage, North Korea exported these copies to some countries, including Egypt, Yemen, Syria, and Cuba, and produced them for other countries, such as Iran under the name (Shihab-1, 2, 3) and Pakistan under the name Ghauri.

- Iran has modified some of the Russian Scud class missiles (B-C-D) and also the Korean missiles of the Hwasong class (5,6,7), which the Houthi group seized from the Yemeni army's depots after it took control of Sana'a in September 2014, and implemented all the modifications to be similar to the Iranian missiles (Shihab-1, 2, 3). Those upgraded missiles were called (Burkan-1, 2, and 3).


Missile depots and launching centers

Yemen owned a few missile brigades, and the missiles were stored in the Al-Sawad, Al-Hafa, Al-Nahdin, 48, and Al-Samaa camps. But after the Houthis took control of the capital, Sana'a, most of the missiles were transferred to Saada and then distributed to several launch centers that appeared recently with the Houthis' announcement of sending missiles to Israel. The most important missile launch centers are Al-Hudaydah, Hajjah, Saada, Al-Jawf, Dhamar, Taiz, Al-Bayda, and Sana'a.


While information says that the Houthis store missiles in areas covered by trees, inside mountains, and in warehouses between hills and on remote islands and coasts, one of the pictures published by  AFP in 2016 revealed Iran's experience in storing missiles in underground silos. The Houthis copied the Iranian approach, and this made it easier for them to keep missiles and fire them from different locations without being discovered. A photo is provided here, showing the Houthis as they prepare to launch a missile stored in a silo, and other pictures show the mechanism of operation of the missile storage silos.



Iranian control of Houthi missiles

The Houthis' capabilities remain primitive when it comes to dealing with missiles compared to the experience of Iranian experts. The Houthis recently tried to prepare some short-range missiles during their battles in Yemen without the technical support of Iranian experts. But they failed.


 In July of this year, the Houthis launched a missile toward Marib, and it fell near the camps of displaced people in Marib. The missile exploded before hitting the ground. According to military experts, this type of missile had many defects. For example, the jet engine at the back of the missile was connected to the missile body through screws. Moreover, the head of the missile exploded before its arrival, which means the missile had no sensitive devices, and these devices only enter Yemen by smuggling and through the Iranians. The Iranians control such matters in all the Houthi missile launch operations rooms.



Houthi missiles fired at Israel and the Iranian role

Iran may direct missiles to any place in light of the Houthis' readiness to claim responsibility. The distance that the missile travels from the Houthi-controlled Al-Jawf to Abu Dhabi is more than 1,300 km, and the distance that the missile travels from Saada to Eilat in southern Israel is about 1,600 km. If the speed of the ballistic missile is approximately 4.7 Mach, i.e. (1224 km/h), 1.6 km/s, and 96 km/min. This means that it needs approximately 14 minutes to reach Abu Dhabi, which falls within the range of the Houthi Burkan 3 missile, which is the Iranian Qiam 1 missile, and the Iranian Qiam 2 takes approximately 17 minutes to reach Eilat in southern Israel.


The missile also needs sufficient fuel, a large explosive warhead, and precise guidance of the target through drones controlled from a ground station located at a distance that does not exceed 250 km from the target, but the continued fall or intercepting of Houthi missiles over the sea indicates the ineffectiveness of these missiles.


 These missiles are advanced ballistic missiles with a shorter range than the Iranian ones, or the missiles were fired at Israel for the sake of the media propaganda and save face. Since the breakout of the Gaza-Israel war on October 7, Iran avoided being involved in the war except through skirmishes by its ally Hezbollah in southern Lebanon, failed missile launches by its Houthi allies in Yemen, and regular attacks without effect by its allies in Iraq.


This matter confirms that Iranian experts are responsible for supervising the smuggling, transporting, and launching of missiles and drones. All the operations rooms associated with these two weapons are not subject to Yemeni command. With this reality, the Houthis' central role is only claiming responsibility for firing drones and missiles. Yemen has become a missile launch pad for Iran, and missile movement policy is directly linked to Tehran and subject to its interests.


Information from within the Houthi group says there is a significant decline in the number of Houthi missiles, which will drive the group to avoid firing missiles and begin military escalation on the internal fronts, especially in Marib, Taiz, Shabwah, and Mocha.