A US Army soldier performs an operational check on a MIM-104 Patriot Missile System mobile generator in Camp Arifjan, Kuwait. (US Army)
ABU DHABI — Two years onward, American and Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) air defense commanders are still calling for development of an integrated missile defense system in the region as Iran reveals a new series of ballistic missile tests.
Failure to implement the system has been blamed on international policies that have hampered integration by military commanders, said experts at the fourth Middle East Missile Defence Symposium (MEMAD) here this week.
Brig. Gen. Majed Al Neaimi, commander of the UAE Air Force and Air Missile Defence Brigade, told audiences that interoperability restrictions between GCC countries, NATO countries and the US prevent data-sharing and limit training.
“Preventing partner countries from sharing data with friendly forces impacts the development of an integrated system,” Al Neimi said. “The current policies limit our training capabilities and foreign disclosure policies need to be reviewed to enhance our bilateral training needs.”
Interoperability policy changes will enable forces to practice the rules of engagement and develop coalition tactics, techniques and procedures, he added.
“The regional threat is real and growing, building a regional [missile defense] capability can’t be fully achieved without interoperability between our regional and allies forces,” Al Neaimi said.
“We should work together with our allies to find a quick solution to the foreign disclosure and policies issues, enhance training exercises to lead our forces to the highest readiness standards. GCC needs for a long-range early warning system is essential,” Al Neaimi said.
Rear Adm. James Loeblein, deputy commander of the US Naval Central Command, echoed Al Neaimi’s call for a unified platform.
“We must be able to integrate with our partner nations to meet the [ballistic missile] threat,” Loeblein said.
“For that we must first share intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance to face the asymmetric threats out there,” he said.
Loeblein stressed that the US must share with partner nations existing platforms to help develop an integrated missile defense system and that must include a combined command-and-control architecture.
Currently, the UAE and Saudi Arabia are the only countries in the region that operate the same system as US forces, the Link 16 system. The system enables the two countries to coordinate and share data and intelligence among themselves and other countries that operate it.
On Monday, Iran announced that a new series of medium- range ballistic missiles have been designed and test-fired.
As quoted by the Iranian news agency FNA, Ahmed Reza Pourdastan, commander of the Iranian Ground Forces, said the new missiles have a greater range and and improved quality compared with the Naze’at-10 medium-range ballistic missiles.
“The laboratory production of these missiles has started and one or two samples have been test-fired,” he added.
Pourdastan said the new missiles will be unveiled and used as a new class of missiles.
Despite the lack of a unified missile defense shield, individually, the GCC has a multilayered approach to missile defense. GCC countries share Patriot systems and Pantsir-S1 Russian anti-aircraft missile-gun systems.
In addition, the UAE in December 2011 purchased two Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) systems at the cost of $1.96 billion. Saudi Arabia, whose air-defense net consists of 49 PAC-2 Patriots, MIM-23B Improved Hawk and French AMX-30SA batteries, has expressed some interest in THAAD, as has Qatar.
The current air defense net in the region, said retired Maj. Gen. Khalid Bu Ainnain, former chief of the UAE Air Force and Air Defence, protects parts of the GCC but not all.
“With this, Bahrain, Qatar the UAE and parts of Oman and Saudi can be defended,” said Bu Ainnain. “However, a coordinated GCC defense effort can cover the whole region.”
According to Bu Ainnain, who is president of the Institute for Near East and Gulf Military Analysis, the UAE has the equipment to protect its assets but the rapid development of potential missile threats poses a challenge.
“The impact of the threat on GCC vital interests include quick attack, precision strikes against critical infrastructure and the ability to overwhelm defenses,” he said. ■