The US is pushing for the Gulf states to adopt a GCC-wide defence system against cruise and ballistic missile attacks, military officers from the US and the region said yesterday. The US wants a GCC-wide system because it believes the threat of low-flying cruise missiles fired from close range may leave individual Gulf states unable to protect themselves adequately. American officers argue that the latest technology would allow the six Gulf states to be connected by a single network that could rapidly identify and respond to missile attacks anywhere across the region.
Currently each GCC state has independent bilateral military ties with the US. The US now envisages a situation in which the GCC states act directly with and to some extent rely upon one another in a multilateral system. "We are looking for a memorandum of understanding between the US and the GCC for regional integrated air and missile defence," said Major Gen Timothy Rush, a defence expert based at US central command in Bahrain, in a presentation to the Air and Missile Defence Summit 2009 in Abu Dhabi.
Gulf military officials have praised the idea in principle but said concrete steps had noy yet been taken. "It's a good idea," said Brig Mohammed al Abri, the head of the UAE's air defence team, speaking on the summit's sidelines. "The GCC is like one country with different names and they have to work as one country rather than as a group." He stressed that any GCC-wide anti-missile system would not come at the expense of the UAE's own plans for a missile shield. "We are working towards having a big umbrella and a country umbrella," he said.
A high-ranking military officer from another Gulf state also said a common missile shield system was a good idea, but added that "nothing has happened yet". Nevertheless, the US military is attempting to persuade the Gulf states of the plan's merits by holding simulated war games, including one in Qatar earlier this year in which an imaginary Gulf island launched missiles at Qatar and the UAE. "We are still in the conceptual phase," Gen Rush said. He added that if each individual country insisted on having its own independent missile defence system, they risked making mistakes in the event of an attack either by leaving it to someone else to deal with, or by all targeting the same missile.
"Integrated defence would really strengthen them as a region," he said. "People in the region are becoming more receptive," he said. "They have been more used to strong bilateral ties with the US but now Gen David Petraeus [the head of the US central command] and Robert Gates [US defence secretary] want to expand that to include the whole of the GCC. "There are hurdles. Each country is a bit different politically, socially and militarily," he said. "We want to break some of these barriers down and bring them together." The UAE is already in negotiations to buy about US$16 billion [Dh60bn] of anti-missile technology from US contractors. The Lockheed Martin Advanced Patriot Capability-3 (PAC-3) missile system is designed to intercept tactical ballistic missiles, cruise missiles and aircraft as far away as 45km.
The US government is considering that deal as well as a request for the Terminal High Altitude Area Defence, for nearly US$7bn, designed to destroy missiles in space. "With the current proliferation of ballistic missiles we are now caught in the crossfire of inter-regional ballistic missiles and it is very worrying for us," said retired Air Force General Khaled Abdullah Bu Ainnain, president of the Dubai-based Institute for Near East and Gulf Military Analysis.
"Ballistic missiles were used in previous wars in this region and will be used in any future conflicts so security against them is very important." In April a defence summit in Dubai heard that the forces of the GCC states were seeking similar computer systems to better co-operate on combating regional threats. Major Gen Mohamed al Qamzi, Commander of the UAE Air Force, said: "Technology and science co-operation between countries on the regional and international levels will lead to security for all."