At Camp David yesterday, President Obama met with key leaders from the Gulf Cooperation Council to craft an outline for U.S. – GCC partnership moving forward, addressing the GCC’s concerns over the forthcoming nuclear deal with Iran. The GCC is an international political and economic union between the countries of Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE).
A major element of the framework established at Camp David was a pledge by the attending parties to increase cooperation within the GCC and with the United States on ballistic missile defense to better counter Iran’s expanding missile arsenal. While most of the GCC countries have acquired missile defense systems of their own, integration of those systems between the various GCC militaries has yet to occur.
At the summit, the highest levels of GCC leadership committed building a GCC-wide integrated missile defense architecture:
“GCC member states committed to develop a region-wide ballistic missile defense capability, including through the development of a ballistic missile early warning system. The United States will help conduct a study of GCC ballistic missile defense architecture and offered technical assistance in the development of a GCC-wide Ballistic Missile Early Warning System. All participants decided to undertake a senior leader tabletop exercise to examine improved regional ballistic missile defense cooperation.” – Annex to U.S.-Gulf Cooperation Council Camp David Joint Statement, May 14, 2015
From the United States, President Obama committed to assisting with the development of this system, and pledged to streamline export restrictions of key technologies that would enable better missile defense integration among the GCC members:
“…we’ll help our Gulf partners improve their own capacity to defend themselves. The United States will streamline and expedite the transfer of critical defense capabilities to our GCC partners. We will work together to develop an integrated GCC defense capability against ballistic missiles, including an early warning system.” – Remarks by President Obama in Press Conference after GCC Summit, May 14, 2015.
Currently, Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the UAE all possess Patriot ballistic missile defense batteries. The UAE has also acquired the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system. In addition to increasing these existing systems with capabilities as well as adding new U.S. systems to include sensors, there are opportunities for developing and deploying a network of shared data to better see the complete air picture for early warning, air battle management for the region as a whole and the specific GCC countries in order to defend against both air and missile defense threats from Iran.
A current program of record, the Integrated Battle Command System (IBCS) would provide a more efficient and effective capability, as it matches the best shooter and interceptor with the best sensor against the specific threat within the network that the system operates across. The U.S. Army Air Defense Artillery Branch has declared the IBCS a program of record and as the future system to improve efficiency and leverage networks together for all its air and missile defense systems. A foreign military sale of the IBCS to the GCC would foster a significant increase in capacity and capability across the U.S. and GCC networks, provided that the U.S. Export Control and Foreign Disclosure of Data release is made available.
The easiest first step to build common ground between the United States and the GCC and within the GCC on missile defense is to share early warning data on Iranian missile and air threats as President Obama stated. It would be upon this foundation of access to air information data that the GCC could next move into the IBCS capability.