Saudi-Arabia, Gulf States Launch Massive Air Defense Buildup

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Facing the growing threat from Iran and uncertainty in Iraq, all gulf states are investing in acquisition of modern armament and defensive systems. All major arms exporters are ready to equip these hungry customers with military supplies. One of the largest supplier is undoubtedly the UK, which received the lion's share of the Saudi aircraft acquisition, selling the kingdom 72 Typhoon fighters. Russian is becoming an active player here, marking an important head start with a delivery to Saudi Arabia of Mi-35 and Mi-17 helicopters under an unprecedent deal worth US$2.2 billion and promising prospects for further deliveries of T-90 tanks. The US is currently promoting several programs in the region, at an estimated value of over $20 billion. Some of them relate to air defense, missile defense and early warning equipment, are listed below. (More...)

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) is also interested in the PAC-3 missile. The UAE plans to invest up to nine billion US$ in the acquisition of nine fire units, to be equipped with PATRIOT Advanced Capability-3 (PAC-3) and Guidance Enhanced Missiles-T (GEM-T) missiles. The UAE is expected to maximize the air defense and missile defense capability of the Patriot, by fielding both types with all batteries providing both air and missile defense optimized capability with all fire units. In total, UAE plans to equip its Patriot fleet with 504 missiles (288 PAC-3s and 216 GEM-T missiles), representing over 200% reload factor for all assets (50% for GEM/T and plus 100% for PAC-3). The system will also include mobile engagement control stations and radar sets and 37 launching stations (4 per fire unit) to equip ten independent fire units (eight of them could be mobile). Kuwait is also interested in upgrading its existing Patriot capability. Such dense deployment is considered to be extremely extensive, and could represent the country's determination to defend itself or an excessive vulnerability of the regime, to internal and regional threats. However, the UAE inventory could also be considered as part of a regional defensive network which the US is trying to establish since the mid 1990s.

Kuwait is also planning to buy 80 PAC-3 missiles and upgrade 60 of its current PAC-2 Missiles to GEM-T version, at an estimated cost of US$1.36 billion. Further improvements are planned for six batteries, upgrading their radars to REP III standard.

The region is also investing in upgrades and acquisition of modern airborne early warning capabilities. The United Arab Emirates is reported to have revived its interest in acquiring the Hawkeye - the country has requested three used US Navy E-2Cs to be refurbished and upgraded into Hawkeye 2000 configuration. In 2002 the UAE asked for five refurbished E-2Cs at an estimated cost of $400 million, but eventually cancelled the program. Five years later, the cost of only three aircraft soared to $437 million.

Under a separate program the Royal Saudi Arabia Air Force (RSAF) is planning to invest $400 million in furtehr modernization of their 'Peace Sentinel' E-3A Sentry Airborne Warning and Control Systems (AWACS) aircraft. The upgrade will include Command, Control and Communications (C3) mission equipment/Radar System Improvement Program (RSIP) Group B kits.

RSAF E-3A AWACS (Photo: Boeing)
The Peace Sentinel program for Saudi Arabia began in 1981. It included five AWACS aircraft and six E-3 derivative (KE-3) inflight refueling tanker aircraft. The first Saudi E-3 was delivered in June 1986, with deliveries of the remaining E-3s and tankers completed by September 1987. The current program is the largest upgrade phase of the continuous modernization of 'Peace Sentinel' aircraft. The first major upgrade were launched in September 2003 Boeing completed upgrading the mission computers and other hardware and software on the RSAF AWACS fleet, under a $60 million contract. Four years later, the Saudis launched a $50 million contract with Boeing, to upgrade the aircraft communications links to Link-16. This link is the standard datalink used in coalition air forces, offering secure, jam-resistant, digital data link that allows military aircraft, ships and ground units to exchange their tactical pictures in near real time. Link 16 also supports the exchange of text messages and imagery data and provides additional channels for digital voice.

The RSAF is also planning to upgrade the ground attack capability of its F-15E strike Eagle aircraft, by replacing the ageing LANTIRN targeting systems with Lockheed Martin's AN/AAQ-33 Sniper advanced targeting pods. The US Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA) notified the US Congress of a possible Foreign Military Sale (FMS) of 40 Sniper pods systems at a maximum value of $220 million.

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