Analyst: Middle East Countries Moving Toward Integrated Missile Defense System
The Arab nations of the Persian Gulf are moving toward creating an integrated regional missile defense system, an analyst with ties to officials in the Middle East said May 4.
Individual countries in the region are already spending billions on American-made Patriot Advanced Capability missiles, Theater High Altitude Area Defense systems and early warning radars for their own defenses.
Abdullah Toukan, chief executive officer of Strategic and International Risk Assessment, an advisory group based in Dubai, said heightened threat perceptions of Iran’s missile activities are spurring the move toward integrating the different systems to improve collective defense.
Members of the Gulf Cooperation Council — Saudi Arabia, UAE, Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar and Oman — are within range of Tehran’s most advanced ballistic missiles, which could potentially carry nuclear warheads. Such weapons, even if equipped with conventional explosives, could help level the playing field in any conflict between Iran and the otherwise superior militaries of the GCC countries.
Although Iran’s ballistic missiles are of questionable accuracy, they can still be employed with against soft targets and cities “to inflict maximum human casualties and create terror,” Toukan said at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington, D.C., think tank.
“Iranian missiles are the only good striking force that they have, and the concentration is in that area as we see and we hear every day,” he added.
Because of the missiles’ high speed, countries on the receiving end of those weapons have a very short amount of time, sometimes just minutes, to take effective action, Toukan noted.
“You’re talking about missiles coming in about 3 kilometers a second. So imagine that window of opportunity to detect, assess, engage and destroy,” he said. “The rules of engagement have to be worked out and decided beforehand, which means an immense amount of coordination, simulation, training between the Gulf States to use these particular systems. So it’s not easy… It’s not one of those plug and plays.”
The challenge of missile defense is made more difficult if multiple volleys of missiles have to be intercepted.
“Technologically speaking, I think the THAAD and the PAC and the advanced features can sort of withstand that, but you will have to have more of an overlay overlapping systems along the Gulf coast. It’s not just one country,” Toukan said.
He said having a regional system would make the systems more effective by eliminating redundancy, reducing costs, and enabling countries to tap into the capabilities of their neighbors if they’re under attack.
As an example, he outlined a hypothetical scenario in which ground radars in Qatar detected a threat and communicated with THAAD systems in UAE at high speed, while information was disseminated to all the missile defense centers and assets involved in combat.
The fact that the United States is the sole supplier of the equipment that would likely be used in any GCC-wide missile defense initiative, will make integrating national assets less complicated, according to Toukan.
“The THAAD and the PAC-3 is a pure American system… You don’t have international or other suppliers coming in… So really it is a very bilateral American-GCC issue that hopefully will make it a little bit easier” to put it all together, he said.
After the conference, Toukan told National Defense Magazine that he expects GCC countries to continue exclusively buying American missile defense technology because it is the best available and they are already using it.
“First and foremost all of them are talking about… upgrading PAC and introducing THAAD” and more long-range, ground-based early warning radars, he said during the presentation.
It could take several years to design and develop an integrated system, but he is confident that the effort will move forward, despite differences among the GCC countries, he said.
“It will be done, it can be done. And that’s exactly what this partnership is working towards,” he said. “I think that their operational requirements and their ideas are really becoming solid and quite pin pointed.”
But Anthony Cordesman, a defense expert at CSIS, said it could be difficult to get GCC members to agree to rely on others for their national defense.
“It is a key political problem [and] it isn’t a new one,” he said. “It requires a decision that basically [military] effectiveness is more important than past feuds and sovereignty.”