March 31, 2023

  • Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates are investing heavily in new military hardware for Iran.
  • They continued to form even after President Joe Biden tried to reassure them of US support.

Iran’s military actions have drawn global attention in recent weeks, raising concerns among the United States and rivals across the Middle East.

On September 1, Iran’s navy briefly seized two US Navy unmanned surface vessels in the Red Sea, the second successful attempt to capture a US drone in a week.

On September 4, the commander of the Iranian Air Force, Brig. General Hamid Vahedi, said The country had hoped to acquire Russian Su-35 fighter jets, making it Tehran’s largest fighter jet purchase since the 1990s.

The next day, Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Navy Showed off A new catamaran-style “patrol-combat vessel” equipped with vertical launch missiles – a first for any Iranian naval vessel.

The moves come amid a long-term military buildup by Iran’s neighbors, who seek to counter Tehran’s asymmetric power by improving their air and naval forces. They continue to form despite President Joe Biden’s efforts to reassure US support and improve relations in the face of growing geopolitical competition.

Dominant wind power

United Arab Emirates F-16 KC-10 Tanker

A UAE F-16 is set to link up with a US Air Force KC-10 tanker in August 2019.

US Air Force/Staff Sgt. Chris Drzazgowski

The vast oil wealth of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates allows them to be the top two defense spenders in the Middle East and North Africa, and their ties to the United States and Europe give them access to the best fighter jets in the market.

Origin of the Royal Saudi Air Force strength Of its 232 F-15 Eagles, at least 84 of them F-15SA variant Specially designed for Saudi Arabia. RSAFO operates 71 Eurofighter Typhoon warrior and 66 Panavia Tornado attack aircraft

Saudi Arabia is upgrading its F-15s, and in November, the US State Department approved the sale of 280 AIM-120C air-to-air missiles to Riyadh for $650 million.

Royal Saudi Air Force F-15

A Royal Saudi Air Force F-15 at King Faisal Air Base in Saudi Arabia in February 2021.

US Air Force/Staff Sgt. Kathryn Walters

Saudi aircraft continue to play a major role in Riyadh’s operations in Yemen. Their operation prevented Houthi forces from taking over important region And abstinence The Houthis launch drone and missile attacks from Saudi Arabia, but Saudi airstrikes are conducted more frequently US supportwill continue Killing civilians.

The UAE’s air fleet is small but mighty, consisting of 78 F-16s and 49 Mirage 2000 Used for both fighter and ground-attack operations.

In the last one year, Dr. UAE It will be purchased 80 French-made Dassault Rafales And 12 Chinese made Hongdu L-15 Jet trainer, with an option for 36 more. There is also the United Arab Emirates In the said discussion 120 with the Turkish firm Baykar Bayraktar TB2 the drone

Modern fleet

Royal Saudi Naval Force corvette HMS Badr

Royal Saudi Naval Force corvette HMS Badr in the Persian Gulf in December 2020.

US Navy/MCS3 Louis Thompson Stats IV

The primary warships of the Saudi Navy are three Al Riyadh-class Frigates, four Al Madina class Frigates, four Badr class corvettes, and nine Al Siddique-class patrol vessels. The UAE fleet consists of smaller ships: six Baynunah class and one Abu Dhabi-class corvettes and 36 patrol vessels.

Both navies are planning to expand and modernize.

In 2017, Riyadh signed a deal with Lockheed Martin for four Multi-mission surface combatant Battleship, a variant of the US Navy’s Freedom-class littoral combat ships. The Saudis did too received Two of the five are Spanish-made Al Jubail class They ordered a 2018 Corvette. The final three are expected to be delivered by 2024. The Kingdom also ordered 39 HSI32 Interceptor Ships from French shipbuilder CMN Group.

Meanwhile, the UAE ordered two Govinda 2500-class corvettes from France’s Marine Group in 2019. The first was the Corvette on December and second in May.

In addition to securing their own waters, both the Saudi and Emirati navies have sent ships in support. a blockade of Yemen.

Evolving threats, priorities, and collections

United Arab Emirates Baynoonah-class corvettes

The first Benunah-class corvette ordered by the UAE sailed for the first time in Cherbourg, France in June 2009.

Jean-Paul Barbier/AFP via Getty Images

Despite showing off its new warships and announcing plans to buy more fighter jets, Tehran has rebuilt its defense infrastructure in recent years.

“Ten years ago, you could see that the Iranians were still thinking in a somewhat conventional way about doing things,” said Michael Knights, an expert on Persian Gulf military and security affairs at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

Hampered by sanctions and a limited industrial base, Iran has largely been unable to build and field advanced military hardware. It has moved away from trying to match its adversaries’ conventional capabilities to focus on things like missile and drone development.

“They skipped over a bunch of things they weren’t good at and focused on the things they’re good enough for now,” Knights told Insider.

of Iran Missile arsenal It is the largest and most capable in the Middle East, as is its Drone fleet.

Damage to al-Assad al-Assad Iraq base after an Iranian missile attack January 2020

US soldiers and journalists inspect the damage after an Iranian missile hit Al Asad base in Iraq.

AP Photo/Qasim Abdul-Zahra

Since 2015, hundreds of missile and drone strikes using Iranian-made hardware have been launched from Yemen and Iran against Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. In January 2020, Iran fired more than a dozen ballistic missiles at US military bases in Iraq following the assassination of an Iranian by the US. Major General Qassem Soleimani.

Iran has been supplying drones in Moscow The Russian military is struggling in Ukraine. In mid-September, Ukraine said it had destroyed an Iranian drone used by Russian forces for the first time.

Iran did too Improved air defense That could possibly effectively defend his home territory.

But the now-advanced weaponry by Iran and its neighbors, along with hard borders in the Gulf region, means any conflict would see heavy casualties on both sides.

“The Gulf states and the Iranians will probably be able to do a lot of damage to each other early in the war. Both sides will lose their navies very quickly,” Knights said.

As a result, Saudi Arabia and the UAE are putting more emphasis on developing anti-aircraft and missile-defense systems. There are both Investment in unmanned systems.

The two countries are working to integrate and network their drones and systems with each other, which the US has supportedand has participated in or hosted multiple military exercises involving drones, including this year’s US-led International Maritime Exercise, The greatest exercise of the world’s unmanned systems.

Driverless boats in Bahrain

U.S. and Bahraini officials stand in front of unmanned vessels in Manama, a naval support operation in Bahrain in January.

US Navy/MCS1 Mark Thomas Mahmoud

There was also IMX 2022 the first time Israel and Saudi Arabia, which do not have diplomatic relations, officially took part in an exercise together.

Saudi and the UAE have focused on their growing defense industries to build those weapons, but the Biden administration — which halted arms sales to Saudi Arabia after taking office over human rights concerns related to the war in Yemen — now appears open to replenishing the Saudis. Emirati arsenal as part of efforts to improve relations.

Weeks after his visit to the Middle East in July 2021, Biden approved a $5 billion arms sale that included two Terminal High Altitude Area Defense Systems with 300 Patriot missile interceptors for Saudi Arabia and 96 interceptor missiles for the United Arab Emirates.

Iran is in a “game of mutual assured destruction” with the Gulf Cooperation Council, which includes Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, “when it comes to damaging critical infrastructure,” Knights said.

“But if counter-missile and counter-drone trends continue in the direction they are now, the GCC may be better prepared to defend itself against the Iranians, and that’s an interesting trend break,” he added.

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