Missile defense cooperation remains one of, if not the most, important aspects of the multilateral relationship between the United States and its allies in the Arabian Gulf. The U.S. defense industry has greatly benefitted from this multilateral relationship with the military expenditure of Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states routinely among the highest in the world.
Due to changing political leadership, budgetary concerns and military education the GCC states are starting to assert themselves across the region. It is, however, the defense of the homeland that remains the principal concern for the GCC states and ensures a continuing relationship with the U.S. defense industry.
Since the first Gulf War, U.S. assets have been stationed across the GCC, protecting critical national infrastructure. With the growing Iranian missile threat, U.S. commercial and strategic interests have encouraged the GCC states to purchase and install the Patriot Advanced Capability-3 (PAC-3) and the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD), the most advanced missile defense systems sold to date by the United States.
Iran continues to be the primary ballistic and cruise missile threat to the GCC. The average length of time for an Iranian weapon to reach the shores of the Arabian Peninsula is approximately eight minutes. The future of the Iranian missile arsenal and technology also is not only based on Suppression of Enemy Defenses, but also on Multiple Independently Targetable Reentry Vehicle technology to include Ballistic Missile Defense (BMD) penetration aides. These facts alone mean that GCC BMD must have a quick response capability that is enabled by a proficient command, control, communications and intelligence network.
The GCC states each have their own BMD solutions in the meantime. Bahrain currently employs the U.S. PAC-3 and enjoys multi-national protection predominantly from the U.S. 5th Fleet which is stationed in Manama. Kuwait also utilizes the PAC-3 as well as MIM-23 Hawk and the European Skyguard. Additionally, Kuwait enjoys considerable support from U.S. forces, predominantly from Army Central Command. Oman utilizes the U.K. Rapier, Skyguard and the Konigsberg/Raytheon designed National Advanced Surface to Air Missile System integrated by a command and control and sensor suite built by what was formerly BAE Insyte.
Qatar currently operates the PAC-3, has requested the THAAD system and is host of the Air Force Central Command. Saudi Arabia’s missile defense capabilities are organized around its “peace shield” that attempts to create a central network enabling a national cohesive missile defense network.
The predominant systems employed by the Saudi’s are the PAC-2 and PAC-3, Skyguard and the Hawk, with considerable support from the U.S. and other Western allies. The United Arab Emirates (UAE) operates the U.S. PAC-3 and THAAD as well as the French Crotale, U.K. Rapier and Russian made Pantsyr. The UAE is home to the French Indian Ocean Fleet, an Australian forward operating base for the Middle East and Central Asian theaters, as well as military representatives from an array of NATO partners.
Real issues concerning the development of a robust integrated BMD network across the GCC still remain. While some states have independently developed effective BMD solutions, there is a lack of collective policy and integration across the region, leaving some states in a vulnerable position against the kinetic threat that endangers the region.
The Obama Administration and the U.S. Department of State (DoS) have made a BMD shield for the GCC a primary policy goal. Although Foggy Bottom continues to make its pitch to the Gulf monarchies for a unified system, movement forward is in a “wait and see” position until the next administration takes office in Washington, DC.
It is notable that GCC states require substantial assistance across the operation lifecycle of high-end missile defense systems but within their own current inventory may simply require training and better access to intelligence to operate independently. This fact makes a unified GCC BMD harder to achieve. In addition, the GCC states are angry with the United States for not sharing highly sensitive data. Put simply, the GCC is caught in a bind: The six nations can neither move forward in a plug-and-play environment that unifies their respective BMD systems nor can they break their dependency on U.S. BMD systems.
One key subject involves technical and training support for the GCC states and their respective BMD systems. So far, the U.S. government and U.S.-based Original Equipment Manufacturers engage with their GCC partners independently. Units and contractors involve with forces in Saudi Arabia differently than in, say, the UAE. These relationships are constrained by contractual and foreign arms sales state-by-state over the years of individual BMD systems. Thus, a distortion of relationships is occurring where the GCC states are constrained because of their own separate BMD architectures and their own planning and acquisition cycles.
Lastly, a perennial issue affecting a unified GCC BMD are policy differences between the U.S. Department of Defense and DoS that have significantly affected U.S.-GCC relations. This “agitation” has threatened to affect military cooperation and defense sales to the region, with DoS’s vision of interaction with the GCC a hindrance to future cooperation. Any possibility of a future GCC regional missile defense shield looks unlikely, at least in the short term.
Clearly, America is a key ally to the GCC when it comes to countering the Iranian ballistic missile threat in the region. The U.S. will no doubt continue to provide missile defense assets and training in whatever structure the GCC sees best while Washington’s plan for a unified GCC BMD is still in the works. The next administration’s perception of foreign policy objectives with the GCC will no doubt direct the ongoing U.S.-GCC BMD relationship, but considering conservative elements (both in the U.S. and the GCC) suspicious of Iranian intentions, it is highly likely that the GCC will continue to enjoy a close relationship with the U.S. vis-a-vis BMD architecture that still needs work.