Al Hussein (missile)

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Al-Hussein missiles displayed in their erector-launchers.
Baghdad arms exhibition, April–May 1989.
TypeSingle-stage SRBM
Service history
In service1987-1991
Production history
ManufacturerIraq (1987–91)
Mass14,110 lb (6,400 kg)
Length41.5 ft (12.46 m)
Diameter3 ft (0.9 m)
Warhead1,102 lb (500 kg) of payload
High explosive
Chemical, biological and nuclear capabilities

EngineLiquid propellant
400 miles (≈644 km)
Flight altitude94 miles (≈151 km)
Speed0.9 miles/s (1.5 km/s)
3 Mobile launchers:
MAZ-Soviet modified
Al-Whaleed-local production
Al-Nida-local production
Concrete silo

Al Hussein or al-Husayn (Arabic: الحسين) is the designation of an Iraqi short-range ballistic missile. The missile was the result of upgrading the Soviet made Scud in order to achieve a longer range. The weapon was widely used by the Iraqi Army during the Iran–Iraq War and the Gulf War of 1991.


The origins of the Al-Hussein could be traced back to the first stages of the war with Iran. Iraq was the first belligerent to use long range artillery rockets during the Iran–Iraq War, firing limited numbers of FROG-7s at the towns of Dezful and Ahvaz. Iran responded with Scud-Bs obtained from Libya. These missiles can hit a target 185 miles away, therefore key Iraqi cities like Sulaymaniya, Kirkuk, and Baghdad itself came within the range of this weapon.

Iraq, which also deployed the Scud-B, was conversely unable to strike the main Iranian industrial centers, including the capital, Tehran, because these are located more than 300 miles from the border. To surmount the Iranian advantage, Iraqi engineers designed a program to upgrade the original Scuds into a series of ballistic missiles whose range would surpass 500 miles.[citation needed] The assembly facility was located near Taji.[1]

The first development, called Al-Hussein or Project 1728, with a range of 400 miles, allowed the Iraqi army to attack deep inside the Iranian boundaries. The range was extended by reducing the original 945 kg warhead to 500 kg and increasing the propellant capacity. The warhead carried HE, although it had chemical, biological and nuclear capabilities. According to UN inspectors reports, the Iraqis were able to produce all the major components of the system by 1991.[1] The Al-Hussein was 12.46 meters long and had a diameter of 0.88 azids. The guidance was inertial, without terminal phase. The altitude where the motor burnt out was 31 miles, while the trajectory highest altitude or apogee, was 94 miles. The accuracy for the impact, or Circular error probable, was estimated in a radius of 1,000 meters, and the missile launch weight was 6,400 kg.

Its flight time was of about eight minutes for the maximum range.[2]

Al-Hussein components

The missile fuel was common to every tactical missile of the Cold War: a mix of kerosene, ignited by a nitric acid oxidizer, called IRFNA. Each missile loaded 4,500 kg of liquid propellant, composed by a 22% of kerosene and 78% of IRFNA.

The Iraqis also extended the launch rail of 11 Soviet-produced MAZ-543 to fit them for the longer local-built missiles.[3] The unit responsible for the maintenance and operation of the new missiles was initially the 224 Brigade, already established since 1976 to deal with the R-17 Scuds imported from the Soviet Union in 1972.

By 1989, a second army Brigade was formed, the 223, equipped with 4 locally developed trailer launchers, known as the Al-Nida. There were also a second indigenous launcher, the Al-Waleed, but apparently it never became operational.[4]

Some concrete silos were built west of Ar Rutba, near the border with Jordan. They were destroyed by precision bombings carried out by USAF F-15s during the first hours of Operation Desert Storm.[5]

Operational history

Iran–Iraq War (1980–88)

Up to 200 missiles were launched against Iran between 1987 and 1988, killing some 2,000 people.[6] Tehran, Qom and Isfahan became the usual targets. Their poor accuracy, while mostly ineffective to conduct a major strategic campaign, made them basically weapons of terror, forcing thousands of refugees out of the main Iranian cities. This exchange of ballistic missiles was indeed known as 'the war of the cities'. The full-scale campaign lasted from 29 February 1988 until April 20, when a truce was agreed by both sides. Iraq, which had been looking for some kind of compromise gesture from Iran, is largely viewed as the 'winner' by some sources.[1]

According to Iranian sources, the fuselage and warhead were prone to break into fragments while re-entering the atmosphere. This phenomenon later was an advantage as a counter-measure against the Patriot missile during the 1991 Persian Gulf War.[7]

Persian Gulf War (1991)

Eighty-eight of these modified Scuds were fired at Saudi Arabia (46) and Israel (42) during January and February 1991.

Aftermath of the Al-Hussein strike on US Army barracks

The greatest tactical achievement of the Al-Hussein was the destruction of a US military barracks in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, on 25 February 1991, when 28 soldiers were killed and other 110 injured, mainly reservists from Pennsylvania.[8]

One of the units involved in this incident, the 14th Quartermaster Detachment, specializing in water-purification, suffered the heaviest toll among US troops deployed in the Persian Gulf, with 81% of its soldiers killed or wounded.[9]

The failure of the Patriot system in tracking the Iraqi missile over Dhahran was provoked by a shift in the range gate of the radar, due to the continuous use of the software for more than 100 hours without resetting.[10]

Only 10 of the 46 Al-Hussein launched at Saudi Arabia caused significant damage: two strikes on US military bases (including the army barracks at Dhahran), one on a Saudi government building, and the remaining seven on civilian facilities. The following is a detailed list of these attacks:

Attacks assessment[11]
No. Place & date Target Area damaged Cause of damage Intercepted by Patriot
1 January 22
USAF air base Hangar area hit by explosion
F-15E serial nº 83-0026 damaged[12]
1 Patriot launcher damaged[13]
Civilian airport struck by debris
Warhead/Debris Yes
2 January 22
Coalition air base Civilian neighborhood Warhead Yes
3 January 25
Coalition headquarters Saudi Department of Interior Warhead Yes
4 January 28
Downtown Riyadh Experimental farm
southeast of the capital
Debris Yes
5 February 3
Downtown Riyadh Apartments area Warhead Yes
6 February 8
North of the city Parking lot Warhead Yes
7 February 11
Downtown Riyadh Islamic University campus Warhead Yes
8 February 14
Hafar Al-Batin
King Khalid Military City Automobile workshop destroyed
Neighborhood damaged
Warhead No
9 February 24
Coalition headquarters Girls school Debris Yes
10 February 25
USAF air base US Army barracks destroyed Warhead No

Besides the American soldiers, Saudi authorities reported one security guard killed and about 70 civilians injured as result of the missile strikes.

Thirty-eight of the 42 missiles aimed at Israel landed within the boundaries of that country; the other four fell on the West Bank area.[11] Although thousands of houses and apartments were damaged by the strikes, only two people died directly as consequence of the impacts. Another 12 lost their life from indirect causes (suffocation while wearing gas-masks and heart attacks).[14]

The threat posed by the Al-Hussein and other Scud missiles forced the coalition air forces to divert 40% of their missions to hunt the launchers along with their support vehicles and supplies.[15] The ground war was postponed one week for this reason.[16]

End of the program

Under the terms of the ceasefire of March 1991, corroborated by the resolution 687 of the UN Security Council, a commission (UNSCOM) was established to assure the dismantling of the Iraqi missile program. They were only allowed to purchase or produce missiles with a range no longer than 150 km. At the end of the war, the Iraqi government declared it had only 61 Al-Hussein and other ballistic missiles in its arsenal. These weapons were destroyed under UNSCOM supervision. This process was completed by July 1991. However, the western powers were suspicious that the Iraqi army may have hidden as many as 200 missiles.[17] The Iraqis took advantage of the provisions of the ceasefire by developing two types of short-range ballistic missiles, the Ababil-100 and the Al-Samoud, which were in an experimental phase at the time of the Invasion of Iraq in 2003. These projects were part of the casus belli raised by the American administration against Saddam Hussein.

See also


  1. ^ a b c Zaloga, Steven J. (2006). Scud Ballistic Missile and Launch Systems 1955–2005. London: Bloomsbury. p. 35. Initially, Iraq cannibalised three Scuds for each Al Hussein.
  2. ^ Cordesman, Anthony H. (1993). After The Storm: The Changing Military Balance in The Middle East. Boulder, CO: Westview Press. p. 489.
  3. ^ Hunter, Thomas B. "The Role and Effect of Special Operations Forces in Theater Ballistic Missile Counterforce Operations during Operation Desert Storm". Archived from the original on November 10, 2001. Retrieved November 18, 2017.
  4. ^ Zaloga, Steven J. (2006). Scud Ballistic Missile and Launch Systems 1955–2005. London: Bloomsbury. p. 36.
  5. ^ Zaloga, Steven J. (2006). Scud Ballistic Missile and Launch Systems 1955–2005. London: Bloomsbury. p. 36–37.
  6. ^ "Special Report: Strategic Delivery Systems". Jane's Intelligence Review. June 1, 1995. Archived from the original on January 15, 2001. Retrieved November 18, 2017.
  7. ^ Zaloga, Steven J. (2006). Scud Ballistic Missile and Launch Systems 1955–2005. London: Bloomsbury. p. 37.
  8. ^ Humphrey, Joyce C (May 1999). "Casualty management: Scud missile attack, Dhahran, Saudi Arabia". Military Medicine. Vol. 164, Issue 5. Bethesda. 164 (5): 322–6. doi:10.1093/milmed/164.5.322. PMID 10332169. ProQuest 217043547.
  9. ^ "14th Quartermaster Detachment". US Army Quartermaster Foundation. Archived from the original on February 27, 2011. Retrieved November 19, 2017.
  10. ^ Higham, Nicholas J (1996). Accuracy and stability of numerical algorithms. SIAM. p. 506. ISBN 0-89871-355-2.
  11. ^ a b "Information Paper: Iraq's Scud Ballistic Missiles"". Iraq Watch. July 25, 2000. Archived from the original on May 14, 2011. Retrieved November 19, 2017.
  12. ^ "Damaged and lost allied planes and helos". Retrieved November 19, 2017.
  13. ^ History of 1st Tactical Fighter Wing - 1991 Archived 2013-01-15 at, 1st Fighter Association
  14. ^ "Civilian Casualties and Damage: Israel". Human Rights Watch. Retrieved November 19, 2017.
  15. ^ Scales, Robert H. (1994). Certain Victory: The U.S. Army in the Gulf War. Lincoln, NE: Potomac Books. p. 184.
  16. ^ Lowry, Richard (2008). The Gulf War Chronicles: A Military History of the First War with Iraq. iUniverse. p. 13.
  17. ^
  • Zaloga, Steven, Ray, Lee, Laurier, Jim: Scud Ballistic Missile and Launch Systems 1955–2005, New Vanguard, 2005.
  • Scales, Brigadier General Robert H. Jr: Certain Victory. Brassey's, 1994.
  • Lowry, Richard S.: The Gulf War Chronicles: A Military History of the First War with Iraq. iUniverse, inc., 2003.
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