DUBAI – A week after Saudi Arabia intercepted yet another ballistic missile over its territory, the U.S. Fifth Fleet commander urged nations in his theater of operations to share more relevant information in real time in order to combat common and growing threats.
“Let’s get through some of the barriers,” said U.S. Vice Adm. John Aquilino, commander of the 32-nation Combined Maritime Force under U.S. Naval Forces Central Command (NAVCENT). “I challenge you all to press your respective leadership to share more information and to work together to negate this highly significant threat.”
As the sole naval officer to speak to the gathering of air power professionals at the eighth edition of the Dubai International Air Chiefs conference (DIAC2017) here, Aquilino said contemporary threats dictate more cooperation not only among nations, but among their respective service branches. He cited the successful Nov. 4 intercept of a Yemen-launched ballistic missile northeast of the Saudi capital city of Riyadh as “a true example of the sensor-to-shooter data that must be shared in order to execute operations today.”
Aquilino said a series of coordinated actions are needed to ensure adequate defense against ballistic missiles. In the case of the Nov. 4 attack, he said cooperation started with partners building a common picture from multiple air- and sea-based sensors, information which was transferred in sufficient time for Saudi Arabia’s ground-based Patriot system to intercept the threat.
The Nov. 4 incident followed at least two other intercepts of ballistic missiles launched at the Saudi Kingdom since its campaign to oust Iranian-supported Houthi rebels from Yemen and prevent their control of the strategic Bab-el-Mandeb Strait connecting the Red Sea with the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean.
According to the Fifth Fleet commander, cooperation is vital to prevent extremists, non-state actors and destabilizing state-entities from threatening to compromise or choke off global trade passing through the Bab-el-Mandeb and the region’s other strategic waterways.
“Today non-state actors have highly capable weapons,” Aquilino said of increasingly accurate ballistic missiles, anti-ship cruise missiles, remote-controlled explosive boats and other threats. “Cooperation and interoperability are essential to keep the environment open and allow nations to operate freely.”
Aquilino acknowledged that it would take a long time to reach the level of intelligence sharing required for true, multilateral cooperation in this region. He did not address specifics, such as the ongoing feud between Saudi-led Gulf states and Qatar or heightened tensions between Saudi Arabia and Lebanon that has hampered a more unified, regional approach at countering extremist terror, piracy and destabilizing actions by state- and non-state actors.
“To get to intelligence-sharing agreements is one of the first things that is a clear barrier. This does not happen quickly,” he said.
Addressing an audience of some 400 top officers, dignitaries and industry executives from some 40 countries, the NAVCENT commander alluded to traditional differences between military professionals and the governments they serve.
“We are much better situated today in terms of having a combined maritime force. From the uniformed side, everybody sitting in this room wants to work together, exercise together and, on short notice, be able to operate together,” Aquilino said. “We just need to encourage your like-minded set of nations to [get to a point] where we all can contribute to this common problem.”
In a separate address, Air Commodore Philippe Adam, commander for operations for the French Air Force’s Aviation Brigade, noted that interoperability among coalition partners requires compatible command and control networks.
“Compatibility between networks is essential; and this requires a lot of work, planning and honing through joint exercises,” he said.
He suggested that instead of aiming for connectivity among the various aircraft flown by members of far-flung coalitions, nations could focus on indirect channels for achieving interoperability. “Connectivity achieved by using processing capabilities on the ground is much easier than integrating it on the air platform,” he said.
Opall-Rome is Israel bureau chief for Defense News. She has been covering U.S.-Israel strategic cooperation, Mideast security and missile defense since May 1988. She lives north of Tel Aviv. Visit her website at www.opall-rome.com.