The United Arab Emirates and Missle Defense


By Debalina Ghoshal

It is a known fact that Middle East is not only gearing up its offensive capabilities but also its defensive capabilities as a deterrence against enemy missile threats. The Gulf Cooperating Countries (GCC) have always been crucial allies of the United States and one of the aims of the United States is to integrate the missile defence system architecture of each of the GCC member into a regional umbrella that would help the United States to form a strong defensive deterrent against the Iranian missile threat.

One of the GCC members, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) is the only Middle East country that possesses the Terminal High Altitude Area Defence (THAAD) system that it received from the United States. UAE in the recent past has been subjected to missile threats from Yemen and the missile defence systems have helped UAE to counter these threats.

The Need for UAE Missile Defense Capabilities

That UAE feels threatened by Iranian missile program and the possibility of Iran to develop nuclear weapons.

However, UAE is not only facing threats from Iranian missile systems, but they are also facing threats from Yemeni Houthis who constantly fire ballistic missiles at UAE and Saudi Arabia. These missiles though are being claimed to be provided by Iran to back the Shia Houthis, an accusation denied by Iran though, UAE irrespective of who provides the missile system to Houthis faces imminent threat.

UAE not just faces threats from ballistic missiles but is also facing threats from cruise missiles.

In fact, in December 2017, reports confirm that Houthis have fired cruise missiles at UAE’s Barakh nuclear power plant.

However, UAE is believed to be possessing one of the most advanced missile defence capabilities in Middle East and defends itself with the Patriot systems (nine batteries) for medium to high altitude threats while the THAAD ( two batteries) for targeting exa-atmospheric targets such as the long range intercontinental missile systems developed by Lockheed Martin.

Along with this, UAE also possesses the AN/TPY-2 Surveillance Transportable Radar.

This radar will further increase the capability of the missile defence system for better interception.

Though the radar system is primary radar system for the THAAD, the same would also operate with the PAC-3 systems.

The radar has been developed by Raytheon and according to the then vice president of Global Integrated Sensors at Raytheon Integrated Defence Systems in 2011: “the radar will provide UAE with unprecedented surveillance and defensive capabilities.”

Among the Patriot variants, UAE possesses the Patriot Gem-3 and the PAC-3 missiles that ensure terminal point defence. The country also possesses capabilities to defend air borne threats like the MIM 23-HAWKS providing UAE the capability to defend low and medium altitude airborne threats.

In addition, the UAE in December 2017 has also been in talks with South Korea to bolster military cooperation and have had discussions to carry out tests in UAE of South Korean anti-missile system that is being developed as a component of the Korean Air and Missile Defence (KAMD) program.

A Regional Framework

In 2015, the then assistant secretary at the US Bureau of Arms Control, Verification and Compliance, noted: “it is increasingly important to think strategically about the deployment of…missile defence assets in a regional context.”

A regional GCC missile defence architecture is crucial from both technological point of view as well as strategic point of view.

Regional GCC missile defence architecture is believed by the United States to strengthen the capabilities of the United States to better defend the region, its allies and forward deployed forces by encouraging cooperation by allowing effective burden sharing.

But how far will this regional framework become a success story is only to be seen.

The GCC comprises UAE, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Kuwait, and Oman.

Saudi Arabia and UAE are facing similar missile threats from the same sources- Iran and Yemen. The cooperation would include “information sharing” and “early warning and tracking data.”

The Trump administration has also emphasized on the need to integrate the GCC missile defence architecture as the countries are using US missile defence systems and related assets.

Therefore, it only makes sense to integrate them for better defensive capabilities.

However, while UAE and Saudi Arabia share cordial relations, they have severed ties with Qatar in the recent past.

At the same time, UAE’s belief of a unified GCC is also to include Iraq into the architecture, a plan which the United States is not appreciative of, owing to the security conditions in Iraq at the moment.

There remains a rift on the difference of opinion on Iraq and its inclusion in GCC defense considerations. It would be obvious that if all the GCC members would have to be integrated into a regional missile defence architecture with Iraq too as a member of GCC, it would also mean that Iraq would need to be integrated as well into the missile defense architecture.

This would mean that the United States would need to provide missile defence and related asset systems to Iraq.

Such an option may not be acceptable to the United States.

Moreover, Qatar is moving towards buying the Russian S-400 anti-missile system- a move that may hinder the progress of the regional architecture as the United States would be apprehensive of Russia befriending Qatar to gain access to US missile defence technologies and developing counter-measures for the same.

In addition, Qatar has also sought for Chinese missile systems and the same concern leaves the United States worried.

In addition, the UAE has also started to enhance their ties with Russia.

It is a known fact that several Middle East countries have showed interest in the S-400 anti-missile system as well, although with the actions by Turkey’s Erdogan, this dynamic may be in even greater flux than before.

In addition, though UAE and Saudi Arabia are cooperating on Yemen and in Syria, it must be noted Saudi Arabia being the bigger power in GCC is often viewed with suspicion by other GCC members to the fear of Saudi dominance in the region.


The UAE is clearly enhancing its missile defence capability.

UAE is significantly investing in acquiring sophisticated missile defense systems as part of its overall defense modernization approach.

Debalina Ghoshal is a Non Resident Fellow, Council on International Policy, Canada and an Asia Pacific Fellow, EastWest Institute

The featured photo shows Satellite imagery from 16OCT16 confirming the deployment of the AN/TPY-2 Radar (Imagery: DigitalGlobe)A

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