Arab Gulf States need to improve force integration, establish better shared-awareness capabilities, improve ISR and EW effectiveness and move from commanding the battle concept to managing the battle to successfully counter Iran’s evolving ballistic missile program, says Khalid Al Bu-Ainain Al Mazrouei, advisor to the deputy supreme commander of UAE Armed Forces.
Iran is working on utilizing its satellite launch vehicles (SLV) to build longer range ballistic missiles that will provide its arsenal with missiles that exceed the 2,500-km range it currently has.
“Iran is developing the Shehab-4/SLV with a range of 3,500-km and Shehab-5/SLV with a range of 5,300, and this will increase the altitude of the missiles to 1,100-km, their trajectory, their speed and narrow interception time,” the former commander of the air force and air defense of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) said in a presentation at the Manama Air Power Symposium. When they become operational, the missiles will be able to hit any target in Europe, as well as cover large parts of Asia and Africa.
He pointed out that the UAE and other Arab Gulf States have managed to build a multilayered ballistic missile defense capability that can provide a low endo (atmospheric) and high endo interception capability against missiles that are below the range of 2,500-km, such as Shehab-3 and Sejil missiles. Once Iran acquires much longer range missiles, an exo-atmospheric interception capability must be integrated within the regional missile defense system.
“Arab Gulf States currently have the Patriot PAC-3 and the THAAD for endo interception, and probably we will need something like an extended-range THAAD or a THAAD block-2 to do the job,” Al Mazrouei added.
Iran has been proliferating ballistic missile technology to its allied militias throughout the region. The Iranian-backed Houthi militias in Yemen have fired more than 200 ballistic missiles against Saudi Arabia since the Yemen war broke out more than five years ago. Reports by the United Nations and the United States have concluded that recovered pieces of ballistic missiles fired by the Houthis on Saudi Arabia were manufactured in Iran.
After several failed attempts, Iran successfully put a military satellite into orbit last April, demonstrating its ability to build SLV, which is regarded as an important step towards developing medium range ballistic missiles that can reach 5,000-km, and possibly intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM). Experts believe that only the United States has the capability to intercept such long-range missiles while in exo-atmospheric stage.
“There’s really nothing currently in the Middle East that can achieve an exo-atmospheric interception, but plenty that can achieve a terminal descent interception against an exo-atmospheric missile,” David Des Roches, of the Near East South Asia Center for Strategic Studies at the National Defense University, said.
However, Des Roches argues that missile defense systems procured by Arab Gulf States are sufficient to deal with the current and next generation Iranian ballistic missiles.
“While the exact speeds of both (Shehab 4 & 5) are unknown to the public, the THAAD missile is believed to reach Mach 8 and can thus intercept an ICBM in the terminal phase – this has been tested in recent years. Patriot may be able to do so as well, but in a much more limited set of conditions,” said Des Roches, who served as Pentagon director of Arabian Peninsula Affairs..
Al Mazrouei underlined the need for Arab Gulf States to acquire long-range radars that cover 360 degrees and deploy them in each of the GCC states, which would enable them to monitor missile defense launches anywhere inside Iranian territories. He also stressed the importance of enhancing the connectivity and integration between the command and control air defense centers of all regional states.
“The GCC Hizam Al-Taawun aircraft identification and tracking system (HAT)” that was deployed by Raytheon in Arab Gulf States in 2001, linking all their air defense centers, “needs to be improved and upgraded,” asserted Al Mazrouei.
Des Roches agreed that a more robust C4ISR capability is required to enhance the missile defense effectiveness of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) – that groups Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Oman, Bahrain, Kuwait and Qatar.
“The most pressing issue is the lack of an integrated GCC warning, tracking, and interception capability. Right now, there are multiple national systems, with attendant underlap and overlap, all operating roughly in synch with a US system which forms the missile defense backbone,” Des Roches added. “A true GCC integrated network of sensors and shooters would be the most effective solution – it would be more easily integrated into the existing US framework and would reduce national costs and vulnerabilities.”
“There must be a better shared awareness picture between GCC states, and an improved ISR and EW capability and effectiveness,” said Al Mazrouei. “Extending the ballistic air defense range is a must to deal with the evolving Iranian ballistic missiles threat.”
“There are two emerging threats posed by the Iranian missile program – increases in accuracy, and increases in range,” concluded Des Roches.
This increase in Iranian capability places bases and assets of the U.S. military in the Gulf region under constant threat.
Ayn Al-Assad Air base in Iraq, where American troops were stationed, was hit by multiple Iranian ballistic missiles last January 8, in retaliation for the U.S. assassination of a senior commander of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards. No casualties were reported in the incident.