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Saudi Arabia

Last Updated: 25 August 2014

Cluster Munition Ban Policy


The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has not acceded to the Convention on Cluster Munitions.

Saudi Arabia has never made a public statement detailing its position on cluster munitions. In an April 2012 statement it informed the Monitor that “the Convention on Cluster Munitions is still under examination by the competent authorities in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.”[1]

Saudi Arabia participated in several meetings of the Oslo Process, including the Dublin negotiations in May 2008 as an observer.[2] Yet Saudi Arabia did not attend the Convention on Cluster Munitions Signing Conference in Oslo.

Despite not joining, Saudi Arabia has continued to engage in the work of the Convention on Cluster Munitions. It has participated as an observer in every Meeting of States Parties of the convention, including the Fourth Meeting of States Parties in Lusaka, Zambia in September 2013, but did not make any statements at the meetings. Saudi Arabia participated for the first time in the convention’s intersessional meetings in Geneva in April 2014, but did not make a statement.

Saudi Arabia has voted in favor of UN General Assembly (UNGA) resolutions condemning the Syrian government’s use of cluster munitions, including Resolution 68/182 on 18 December 2013, which expressed “outrage” at Syria’s at Syrialuster munitions, including Resolution 68/182 on 18 December 2013, which expressed “ies in ngdom of Saudi Arabia.”ns.t[3]

Saudi Arabia is not party to the Mine Ban Treaty. Saudi Arabia is party to the Convention on Conventional Weapons.

Production, transfer, and stockpiling

Saudi Arabia continues to procure and stockpile cluster munitions, but it is not known to have produced or exported the weapons.

In August 2013, the United States (US) Department of Defense concluded a contract for the manufacture of 1,300 CBU-105 Sensor Fuzed Weapons for foreign military sales to Saudi Arabia by the US company Textron Defense Systems. The contract was to be completed by December 2015.[4] However, to ever for foreign military sales to Saudi Arabia by the US compcontract was reportedly awarded in 2012.[5] The US previously announced in June 2011 that, at the request of Saudi Arabia, it was intending to sell 404 CBU-105 air-dropped Sensor Fuzed Weapons. According to the US Department of Defense, “Saudi Arabia intends to use Sensor Fused [sic] Weapons to modernize its armed forces and enhance its capability to defeat a wide range of defensive threats, to include: strong points, bunkers, and dug-in facilities; armored and semi-armored vehicles; personnel; and certain maritime threats…The Royal Saudi Air Force will be able to develop and enhance its standardization and operational capability and its interoperability with the USAF, Gulf Cooperation Council member states, and other coalition air forces.” The Department of Defense also noted that the “cluster munitions and cluster munitions technology will be used only against clearly defined military targets and will not be used where civilians are known to be present or in areas normally inhabited by civilians.”[6]

The US transferred to Saudi Arabia 1,000 CBU-58 and 350 CBU-71 cluster bombs sometime between 1970 and 1995.[7] In 1991, the US announced its intent to transfer 1,200 CBU-87 Combined Effects Munitions cluster bombs.[8] In addition, the US transferred 600 CBU-87 cluster bombs to Saudi Arabia as part of a larger package of arms sales announced in 1992.[9]

Jane’s Information Group has reported that British-produced BL-755 cluster bombs are in service with the Saudi air force.[10] It also possesses Hydra-70 and CRV-7 air-to-surface rockets, but it is not known if this stockpile includes the M261 multipurpose submunition variant.[11]


Recent reports indicate that Saudi Arabia may have been involved in the use of cluster munitions in neighboring Yemen in late 2009, when the Saudi Air Force conducted airstrikes and Saudi armed forces intervened on the ground in Sada’a governorate after fighting between the government of Yemen and a non-state armed group (Houthi rebels) intensified and spilled over the border with Saudi Arabia.

Saudi Arabia possesses attack aircraft of US and Western/NATO origin capable of dropping US-made cluster bombs, such as the CBU-52 cluster bombs, the remnants of which were filmed near the city of Sa’adah and broadcast by VICE News in May 2014.[12] In July 2013, the Monitor reviewed photographs taken by clearance operators showing the remnants of unexploded BLU-97 submunitions and BLU-61 submunitions of US-manufacture as well as dual purpose improved conventional munition (DPICM) submunitions of an unknown origin.[13] Unless modified, Yemen’s Soviet supplied aircraft are not capable of delivering US-made cluster bombs and the Houthi rebels do not operate aircraft capable of using cluster munitions. (See Yemen Ban profile.)

In 1991, both Saudi and US forces used cluster munitions on the territory of Saudi Arabia in response to an incursion by Iraqi armor units in the prelude to Operation Desert Storm. During the battle of Khafji in January 1991, Saudi Arabia attacked Iraqi forces with cluster munitions fired from ASTROS multi-barrel rocket launchers, which Saudi Arabia had acquired from Brazil.[14] The weapons reportedly left behind significant amounts of unexploded submunitions.[15]


[1] Statement of the Embassy of Saudi Arabia to the UN in Geneva to Human Rights Watch (HRW) Arms Division, 26 April 2012.

[2] For more details on Saudi Arabia’s cluster munition policy and practice up to early 2009, see HRW and Landmine Action, Banning Cluster Munitions: Government Policy and Practice (Ottawa: Mines Action Canada, May 2009), pp. 235Pract

[3]Situation of human rights in the Syrian Arab Republic,” UNGA Resolution A/RES/68/182, 18 December 2013. Saudi Arabia voted in favor of a similar resolution on 15 May 2013.

[4] The contract called for the construction of 1,300 cluster bomb units by December 2015. US Department of Defense, Contracts, No: 593-13, 20 August 2013.

[5] Hayes Brown, “U.S. Clears Sale Of Cluster Bombs To Saudi Arabia,” ThinkProgress, 23 August 2013.

[6] US Defense Security Cooperation Agency, Department of Defense, “Saudi Arabia – CBU-105 Sensor Fuzed Weapons” News Release #10-03, 13 June 2011.

[7] US Defense Security Cooperation Agency, Department of Defense, “Cluster Bomb Exports under FMS, FY1970–FY1995,” 15 November 1995obtained by HRW in a Freedom of Information Act request, 28 November 1995.

[8] US Defense Security Cooperation Agency, “US Defeations to Congress of Pending US Arms Transfers,” 25 July 1991.

[9] US Defense Security Cooperation Agency, “Notifications to Congress of Pending US Arms Transfers,” #92–42, 14 September 1992.

[10] Robert Hewson, ed., Jane’s Air-Launched Weapons,  Issue 44 (Surrey, UK: Jane’s Information Group Limited, 2004), p. 845.

[11] Colin King, ed., Jane’s Explosive Ordnance Disposal, CD-edition, 14 December 2007 (Surrey, UK: Jane’s Information Group Limited, 2008).

[12]VICE on HBO Debriefs: Crude Awakening & Enemy of My Enemy,” aired on the Home Box Office television network, 19 May 2014. Ben Anderson and Peter Salisbury, -“US Cluster Bombs Keep Killing Civilians in Yemen,” VICE News, 16 May 2014. See also, “Saudi Arabia used cluster bombs against Houthi Shiites,” AhlulBayt News Agency, 19 May 2014.

[13] Interview with Abdul Raqeeb Fare, Deputy Director, Yemen Executive Mine Action Center (YEMAC), Sanaa, 7 March 2013. Interview with Ali al-Kadri, Director, YEMAC, in Geneva, 28 May 2013. Email from John Dingley, UNDP Yemen, 9 July 2013.

[14] Terry Gander and Charles Cutshaw, eds., Jane’s Ammunition Handbook 2001–2002 (Surrey, UK: Jane’s Information Group Limited, 2001), p. 630.

[15] HRW interviews with former explosive ordnance disposal personnel from a Western commercial clearance firm and a Saudi military officer with first-hand experience in clearing the unexploded submunitions from ASTROS rockets and Rockeye cluster bombs, names withheld, in Geneva, 2001-2003.