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Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Deal or No Deal: The Case for Diplomacy with Iran Part II - Assuaging Gulf Allies & Bolstering Regional Deterrence

[Update Shortly after the publication of this article, Saudi Arabia announced its intent to acquire 10 MH-60 ASW helicopters.] 

Image 3: US CENTCOM "enduring locations" (bases) construction budget FY 2016-2021.

The concern of G.C.C. (Oman, Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and the United Arab Emirates) nations that a nuclear deal between the United States and Iran would compromise their own security is understandable. G.C.C. nations, Saudi Arabia in particular, perceives the US-Iran nuclear deal within the context of the US re-balance to Asia (Cooper, 2015). From the Saudi. perspective, not only is the United States substantially drawing down its long-term presence in the region, but also it is empowering the most significant military, cultural, religious, and political rival in the region. Many G.C.C. nations have clearly shown they view the context of the Saudi-Iran rivalry in a sectarian Sunni-Shia context as Qatar and Saudi Arabia have already provided arms to radical Sunni Islamist groups in Syria to fight Assad's Alawite (Shia sect) regime despite US concerns (Sanger, 2014). Saudi Arabia's leaders already perceive a situation of strategic encirclement as a result of Iran backed Shia proxies operating in Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, and Yemen (Kram & Keath, 2015). In an expression of the extent of dissatisfaction with current US policy, neither Saudi King Salman nor Bahrain's King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa will attend this week's Camp David summit with President Obama. Oman and the UAE will also not send their respective rulers on account of health issues. The concerns of G.C.C. nations are partially based on the official policy of the United States which calls for increased engagement in Asia, but the defacto policy has been doubling down in the Middle East in many respects. 

Over 35,000 US troops will continue to be stationed in CETCOM despite the draw down in Afghanistan. The Navy will increase its forward operating presence from 30 to 40 ships by 2020. The bulk of these forces will be concentrated in Kuwait which hosts 10,000 US troops and Bahrain, the head quarters of the United States Navy's Fifth Fleet. The United States will greatly augment its facilities in the Middle East through 2021 with $3.5 billion in new base construction efforts. Perhaps the greatest showing of US commitment to the Middle East in recent years has been the irreplaceable time spent by Secretary of State John Kerry as well as other Department of State officials in terms of negotiations, consultations, etc. with respect to regional crises, the Iran nuclear deal, and Palestinian statehood. While the United States should continue with the re-balance, it must frequently underscore its resolve to maintain a sizable presence in the region.  In addition to reminding G.C.C. allies of the substantial assets in the region described above, Washington can take numerous steps to assuage the concerns of gulf allies including drafting a written security pact - which would not require authorization from Congress - and new weapons exports. The United States must also recognize the divisions with the G.C.C. while conducting the Camp David summit on May 14th which provides a perfect opportunity to enact the proposals above. 

Image 4: Cyclone-class patrol boats in the Gulf, a total of 10 Cyclone ships are deployed to the 5th fleet. Relative to its size, the Cyclone-class is among the most heavily armed ships in the US Navy with two 25 mm auto-cannons, 40 mm grenade launchers, .50 caliber machine guns, and Griffin missiles. 

As Helene Cooper states in her New York Times article, "White House Looks to Ease Arab Fears Over Iran Nuclear Pact", a formal treaty alliance signed by Congress is unlikely to materialize. The best the Obama Administration can provide is a written security pact which would have loosely defined terms in which the United States would agree to intervene on behalf of G.C.C. nations if they were attacked by an outside power. Such a security agreement would have to balance the potential for internal conflict within many of these nations as well as Congressional concerns over Israel's security (Cooper, 2015). Overall, the concern of ensuring Israel maintains the most dominant military in the region greatly constrains US assistance for G.C.C. nations, especially in terms of arms exports. 

The F-35 fifth generation stealth fighter is consistently ranked as the top arms export item requested by G.C.C. nations but the United States will ultimately be unable to export the aircraft due to Congressional concerns over Israel. It is possible the United States could sign agreements to export the aircraft after Israel takes delivery of its first aircraft three years from now, if this compromise occurs the first F-35 customer in the G.C.C. would likely be the UAE (Cooper, 2015). While the addition of the F-35 would greatly augment the capabilities of US gulf allies, G.C.C. militaries have significant deficiencies - many of which were made glaringly apparent after strikes in Syria, Iraq, and Yemen. In general terms, Gulf states have the assets required to deliver ordinance - such as advanced 4th generation fighter aircraft - but lack the enabling assets which are required to both facilitate and sustain operations. While capabilities vary significantly among the six nations, US Gulf allies generally lack anti-submarine warfare, intelligence surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR), and logistics assets. Furthermore, many G.C.C. nations maintain conventional missile forces and anti-ballistic missile (ABM) systems but the United States can work to augment and improve existing capabilities. All of the capabilities above would be highly relevant in a conflict with Iran which has become increasingly dependent upon asymmetric warfare as a means to cope with its comparatively small military budget under international sanctions and its limited domestic arms industry. 

Anti-Submarine Warfare

Image 5: MH-60R with variable depth active sonar for anti-submarine warfare (ASW) missions

Iran has continued to invest in its midget submarine force as a means of threatening US and G.C.C. ships in the Gulf. While each submarine is individually limited in terms of payload and endurance, the comparatively small theater of operations and nearby supporting facilities makes Iran's midget submarine force a credible threat to US and allied naval vessels. North Korea demonstrated the viability of midget submarines by sinking the ROKS Cheonan with a Yono-class submarine; North Korea exported technologies from the Yono-class to Iran which subsequently built the Ghadir-class submarine. Despite the increased threat posed by Iranian midget submarines, no G.C.C. nation currently fields a dedicated ASW patrol aircraft with the exception of the Eurocopter AS332 Super Puma deployed by the Saudi Arabian and UAE Navies in limited numbers. G.C.C. nations must address their lack of ASW capabilities with the addition of aircraft such as the P-3C, P-8, and MH-60R. These aircraft would also provide substantial ISR and maritime surveillance capabilities during peacetime conditions. 

Intelligence Surveillance Reconnaissance 

Image 6: General Atomics Predator XP, a modified export variant of the existing MQ-1 predator 

Operations by G.C.C nations in Yemen as part of Decisive Storm and operations in Syria have shown Gulf allies are heavily dependent upon US ISR capabilities. Saudi Arabia has been widely criticized for having hit civilian and non-Houthi affiliated targets resulting in high casualties. As part of US intelligence sharing assistance with Saudi Arabia, US advisers have reviewed targets submitted by the Saudis in an effort to reduce civilian casualties but the review process is far from perfect (Maria Abi-Habib & Maria Abi-Habib, 2015). Saudi Arabia and its allies must acquire ISR assets such that they are able to identify and track enemy assets independently in order to reduce the unsustainable burden on US ISR platforms operating in the Middle East:
"'Carlisle noted that the Air Force’s current manning problem is so acute that the service will have to beg the Pentagon to reconsider its demand for 65 drone combat air patrols, or CAPs, as early as April 2015...The Air Force has been forced to raid its schools for drone operators to man the operational squadrons that are flying combat missions over places like Iraq and Syria. As a result, training squadrons—called Formal Training Units (FTU)—are being staffed with less than half the people they need...Overworked drone crews have had their leaves canceled and suffered damage to their careers because they could not attend required professional military education courses. The result is that drone operators are leaving the Air Force in droves. 'Pilot production has been decimated to match the steady demand placed upon the RPA community by keeping ‘all hands’ in the fight,' Carlisle wrote. 'Long-term effects of this continued OPSTEMPO are manifested in declining retention among MQ-1/9 pilots, FTU manning at less than 50%, and enterprise-wide pilot manning hovering at about 84%.'” - Dave Majumdar, 2015 [emphasis added]
To retain the current byzantine and overly restrictive UAV export policy in the midst of severe operational shortfalls by US forces coupled with disproportionately increased demand is, to put mildly, astoundingly shortsighted. A restrictive US UAV export policy does not stop, or even delay, the proliferation of UAVs. Other manufactures have stepped in to fill the void in the international UAV market -  despite the preference among many nations American hardware. Saudi Arabia allegedly acquired the Wing Loong UAV, a Chinese medium altitude long endurance (MALE) UAV suspiciously similar to the MQ-1, in 2014. The Predator XP is an ideal candidate for export among G.C.C. nations pending reforms to US arms export policy given the XP's alterations with respect to sensitive technologies. Demand for the Predator XP among US allies in the Middle East is high, King Abdullah of Jordan personally appealed to the Obama Administration to allow exports of the surveillance drone but was refused (Gould, 2015). China has subsequently offered armed UAVs to Jordan. Even a unarmed configuration of the Predator XP would be of great value to US allies in the region given that many of these states have the manned assets required to conduct strikes but desperately lack ISR capabilities. 

Additional Munitions - "Conventional Second Strike" & Bunker Busting Munitions 

The United States could provide G.C.C nations with additional conventional deterrence capabilities in the form of the MGM-140 Army Tactical Missile System (left) which has a 300 km range and either sub-munition or a 500 lb unitary warhead. The UAE acquired 100 ATACMs, 12 High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems (HIMARS) launchers, spares, and support equipment in 2014 for $900 million. The UAE's geographic position directly across the narrow strait of Hormuz from Iran enables the 300 km range missiles, which comply with range limitations specified by missile technology control regime guidelines, to effectively target much of Iran's coast. Bahrain, Kuwait, and Saudi Arabia could similarly position ATACMs units within range of many of Iran's key facilities. Bahrain and Kuwait already possess either the M270 or HIMARS rocket systems capable of launching ATACMs. HIMARS is particularly advantageous given its ability to be carried by C-130 cargo aircraft which would allow US allies to quickly deploy ATACMs units as needed. Another possible means in which the US can improve Saudi conventional strike capabilities would be if Saudi Arabia continues with its planned purchase of Type 209 submarines from Germany. The Type 209 can accommodate the 150 nautical mile range UGM-84L Harpoon missile which is able to strike both sea and land based targets. As Iran continues to improve its integrated air defense system with either Antey-2500 or S-300 surface to air missiles supplied by Russia, surface to surface missiles will grow in importance as a means of targeting defended sites in the Gulf.

The Obama Administration is considering exporting the 5,000 lb GBU-28 bunker buster to Saudi Arabia as a means of assuaging concerns over Iran's hardened nuclear sites (Taylor, 2015). Israel is currently the only US ally in the region to field the weapon which is capable of penetrating 20 feet of hardened concrete or 100 feet of soil. The GBU-28 would allow Saudi Arabia to target all of Iran's hardened nuclear sites except Fordow which is believed to shelter its uranium enrichment equipment with around 260 feet of hardened rock and reinforced concrete; Saudi Arabia's fleet of F-15S and F-15SA aircraft would be capable of carrying the GBU-28. 

Integrated Anti-Ballistic Missile Shield & Aegis Ashore 

Image 8: THAAD interceptor 

Nearly all G.C.C. nations field sophisticated US built ABM systems such as the Patriot PAC-2 Guidance Enhanced Missile (GEM), Patriot PAC-3, and Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system. Cumulatively, G.C.C. nations are set to acquire over 1,000 PAC-2 and PAC-3 Patriot missiles as well as 288 THAAD interceptors (Defense industry Daily, 2015). Furthermore, Gulf countries maintain state of the art radars such as the 25,344 transmitter receiver module AN/TPY-2 radar which can track ballistic missiles at high altitudes at ranges up to 1,000 km. Despite the individually capable systems employed by G.C.C. nations, Gulf nations refuse to integrate their systems into a broader and more robust Gulf missile shield:
"'You can’t just buy lots of interceptors and park them in the desert,' said Thomas Karako, a missile defense expert with the Center for Strategic and International Studies, or CSIS. 'You’ve got to stitch them together into the network and give them plenty of early warning and sensor information so they know where to shoot'...regional politics, military rivalries and even cyber espionage concerns have blocked them from setting up an intertwined missile defense shield akin to what NATO has built and in Europe. There, alliance members have been beefing up missile defenses to protect the continent from long-range Iranian missiles. 'The difference is that you don’t have NATO in the Middle East,' Karako said. 'Really the prerequisite to serious cooperation, to serious interoperability and integration is and always has been the lack of political integration and … security integration like you have with NATO'" - Marcus Weisgerber, 2015
In order to maximize the use of existing interceptors and radars, a networked and highly automated system is required to successfully defeat ballistic missiles from Iran which will have a flight time of roughly 4 minutes against regional targets (Weisgerber, 2015). Given the sensitivity in sharing data among G.C.C. countries, the United States could act as an intermediary by collecting information from G.C.C. ABM sensors and radars in the region and coordinating a response. A somewhat similar agreement exists between South Korea, Japan, and the United States relating to North Korea's missiles and nuclear program; the United States  acts as an intermediary between two parties who were otherwise unwilling to share sensitive data. 

In addition to integration of sensors and existing interceptors, US Gulf allies should consider longer range more capable ABM systems.  The current composition of G.C.C. interceptors relies upon the 25 km range Patriot PAC-3 missile; the comparatively low cost and high capacity four missiles per container  in a Patriot launcher (16 total) makes the PAC-3 ideal for defending military bases or other high priority targets in a limited area but is of little relevance to protecting non-localized targets. Another limitation of the Patriot is it is designed to intercept incoming ballistic missiles in their terminal or final phase of descent within the earth's atmosphere. THAAD is a much  more capable system and enables multiple opportunities for interception by providing exo-atmospheric and endo-atmospheric interception capabilities; THAAD has a maximum range of over 200 km and a maximum altitude of over 150 km (Global Security, 2013). Thus, THAAD batteries stationed in the UAE have the potential to protect US regional forces as well as key sites across the country, 

Image 9: Midcourse and terminal phase of US missile shield. With current technology, boost phase interception is not viable though the United States maintains several sensors capable of tracking missiles through the boost phase such as the Space Based Infrared System (SBIRS).

Ideally the US should press G.C.C countries to field larger numbers of longer range and integrated ABM systems such as THAAD and Aegis ashore. The SM-3 utilized in the Aegis ashore system, which will be operationally deployed to Romania later in 2015, will field midcourse interception capable 500 km range SM-3 Block 1A and 1B missiles. In many respects, the SM-3 is the most capable and reliable US ABM system which will continue to receive upgrades which will improve performance against intermediate range and intercontinental ballistic missiles. The Navy's current policy has been to rotate DDG-51 destroyers into the Middle East, Europe, and the Pacific as a means to provide ABM capabilities to US forces in each region. However, the limited vertical launch system  (VLS) capacity of destroyers means that ABM missions detract from other capabilities such as offensive sea control and land attack payloads. The limited VLS capacity for destroyers coupled with increasing combatant commander demand for ABM capabilities, of which 40% the Navy as able to meet in 2014, necessitates a new ABM strategy in consultation with US allies (Bacon, 2015). 
"Today the Navy has thirty-three BMD-capable ships, with plans to increase the number to forty-three ships by 2019. On average, two large surface combatants are continuously deployed in the Mediterranean Sea, Arabian Gulf, and Western Pacific Ocean to provide BMD for partners and allies overseas, which requires at least eighteen CGs or DDGs to support...The Navy should pursue replacing today’s BMD ship stations in the Middle East and Japan with Aegis Ashore to defend fixed locations against known threats. The cost of an Aegis Ashore system is about $750 million whereas a Flight IIa DDG-51 costs about $1.6 billion" - Bryan Clark, 2015
The limited ability of the US Navy to provide regional ABM capabilities will be exacerbated further by sequestration cuts towards eliminating the modernization of five DDG-51 destroyers with ABM capability(LaGrone, 2015). Thus, the Navy will have ever fewer ABM capable ships than planned.

In conclusion, the United States should (1) provide a limited security agreement with the G.C.C. such that the United States could assure Gulf allies of US regional commitment and (2) allow new arms exports to focus towards ameliorating current deficiencies in Gulf militaries such as ASW, ISR, and networked long range ABM systems.  The combination of new arms export and a new formal security agreement would greatly bolster US-G.C.C. deterrence against Iran. 

In addition to Part I: 
  1. Precision Fires Rocket and Missile Systems.
  2. Obama weighs offering Saudi Arabia weapons provided only to Israel, Guy Taylor, 2015.
  3. Iran nuclear sites may be beyond reach of "bunker busters", Michael Ammons, 2012.
  4. Gulf States Requesting ABM-Capable Systems, Defense Industry Daily, 2015.
  5. IDEX 2015: Saudi, Qatari THAAD contracts in the pipeline, Jeremy Binnie, 2015. 
  6. Patriot Fact Sheet, NATO, 2013. 
  7. BMD mission demands outstrip fleet's capabilities, Lance M. Bacon, 2015. 
  8. Navy Again Reduces Scope of Destroyer Modernization, 5 Ships Won’t Receive Any Ballistic Missile Defense Upgrades, Sam LaGrone, 2015. 
  9. SM-3 BMD, in from the Sea: EPAA & Aegis Ashore, Defense Industry Daily, 2015. 
  10. THAAD TMD, Global Security, 2013.
  11. Commanding the Seas: A Plan to Reinvigorate U.S. Navy Surface Warfare, Bryan Clark, 2014. 

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