x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

US official affirms strength of military ties with Emirates

Experts say integration of missile systems means the two countries would be able to render their military equipment compatible.

ABU DHABI // A US defence official said the armed forces of the UAE and the US enjoyed a "very important level of co-operation, one that was needed to face the region's security challenges in the years ahead. Christopher Straub, deputy assistant secretary of defence for the Middle East, made his comments during an interview published in this month's issue of the official UAE army journal Nation Shield.

He said he hoped the US and the UAE, who have been partners for years, would continue to work together because they had common interests. "The Emirates is already a partner in many ways: in the integration of missiles, defence technology and systems," said Mr Straub. "That is the kind of co-operation we are working on today." Experts say integration of missile systems means the two countries would be able to render their military equipment compatible so they can work together to cover the skies against aerial attack.

"The region's states have excellent missile systems, but without integration the skies cannot be protected," said Musa Qallab, a defence analyst at the Dubai-based Gulf Research Centre, yesterday. The UAE has major plans to develop its air-defence system. In December last year, the Government notified US Congress it may purchase the long-range surface-to-air Patriot missile air-defence system. The Patriot system was developed by the US firms Raytheon and Lockheed Martin Missiles and Fire Control, and was used in the Gulf war to protect Saudi Arabia and Israel from Iraq's Scud ballistic missiles. Success ratios ranged from 40 to 70 per cent.

According to a Congress report released in January, the UAE's proposed purchase includes 504 missiles and a number of radar sets and launcher stations. If signed, the arms deal would amount to US$9 billion (Dh33.03bn). The UAE is also considering the longer-range Terminal High Altitude Area Defence system, developed by Lockheed Martin. It aims to destroy ballistic missiles while still in space. The Emirates also has a pending request for the Hawk air defence system, an advanced medium-altitude missile system, according to a website managed by the UAE's embassy in Washington.

The Government could also pursue a policy of buying weapons from several countries, such as Russia and France, although Mr Qallab cautioned that it was not possible to integrate missile systems from Russia with those from the US. So Mr Straub's statement on integrating the missile systems could imply that the Government would prefer to use US-made missiles for more efficient battle management. During his interview, Mr Straub said that Government-backed arms sales to the UAE further strengthened the alliance between Washington and Abu Dhabi, preparing both centres to face the regional security challenges.

"It [arms sales] makes us stronger partners," he said. "I think this is the case with the region, with the threat that emanates from Iran in terms of missiles. We have technology to help the people of the region and the UAE to defend themselves." Mustafa Alani, director of the security and terrorism department at the Gulf Research Centre, said the region's military strategy was based on the ability to sustain a first strike until the forces of the allies, such as the US, arrive.

In the past, military experts have argued that an advanced air-defence system was vital for such a strategy, combined with a powerful navy. The UAE shored up its relationship with the US when it struck the 1994 Defence Co-operation Agreement. "We make exercises together, co-operate in the field of aviation? and have UAE officers take courses in the US," Mr Straub told the journal. "There is also co-operation in equipment. It is a very important level of co-operation."

Some of the most significant defence purchases by the UAE Armed Forces have included Apache helicopters, at least 80 F-16 fighter jets, and cargo aircraft. The cargo aircraft have been repeatedly used by the Army to deliver humanitarian aid to countries like Afghanistan. The US official voiced his country's support of the UAE's sovereignty over three islands - Abu Musa and Greater and Lesser Tunbs - that have been occupied by Iran since 1971.

"The problems are the hegemonic behaviour of Iran," he said. "Iran has to behave like a partner in the neighbourhood and not like an irresponsible power." mhabboush@thenational.ae