The U.S. is “gently prompting” the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries to integrate their air- and missile-defense systems, according to American strategic defense consultant Ian Brzezinski.
Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and the UAE have all bought Raytheon’s Patriot system; Qatar and the UAE are buying Lockheed Martin’s Terminal High Altitude Air Defense (THAAD) system. These can all potentially defend against, for example, missiles launched from Iran. But the GCC countries “can’t achieve regional coverage without multilateral cooperation,” Brzezinski told AIN.
Brzezinski is a former Pentagon official responsible for U.S. policy towards NATO and Europe. He points to the progress being made by Europe in defending against ballistic missile threats, by combining national radar and missile systems.
NATO is networking the air-defense sensors and shooters of nine members in the Active Layered Theater Ballistic Missile Defense (ALTBMD) program. This command-and-control architecture will combine the nations’ lower-tier, point defense systems such as Patriot and SAMP/T that intercept their targets in the endo-atmosphere to defend cities or military deployments. But by further linking these systems to the upper-tier SM-3 system that is fired from American warships and can intercept in the exo-atmosphere (above about 50 miles up), whole regions or countries can be defended.
In a first phase of this enhanced linkage, the U.S. is deploying Aegis-class ships with SM-3 missiles into the Mediterranean. In a second phase, upgraded versions of the SM-3 will be land-based in Romania (from 2015) and Poland (from 2018). The SM-3 missile is made by Raytheon, which is one of Brzezinski’s clients.
In recent years, Iran has been considered the main missile threat to European and Gulf countries alike. “But 30 countries now have ballistic missiles, and their range, accuracy and lethality is improving all the time,” Brzezinski told AIN. “On the 30th anniversary of President Reagan’s ‘Star Wars’ speech, which was very controversial then, there is now a strong transatlantic consensus for defending against ballistic missiles,” he added.
Missile defense is an expensive and challenging undertaking, Brzezinski noted. Collaboration leads to cost savings and increased capabilities through the sharing of sensor coverage and an expanded pool of interceptors.
Brzezinski believes that “a world is coming in which missile defense assets are surged between like-minded countries.” The Gulf region should be no exception, he said. In fact, the U.S. Central Command has already sponsored regional ballistic missile defense exercises. “The sensitivities of Gulf countries over sovereignty are being broken down,” Brzezinski added.