The US Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA) has cleared the prospective sale of Patriot missiles to Saudi Arabia and THAAD (Terminal High Altitude Area Defense) long-range anti-missile systems to the UAE (UAE). These contracts are worth more than $5 billion.
THAAD to UAE
In 2017, Saudi Arabia ordered seven batteries of the THAAD anti-missile system for $15 billion. Each battery has six launchers. The Saudis also purchased 360 interceptors, plus powerful Raytheon AN/TPY-2 radars ranging up to 3,000 kilometres per battery. It is not known whether THAADs have already been ordered in Saudi Arabia.
US military also deploys THAAD batteries in Saudi Arabia and the UAE on a rotational basis. At the beginning of the year, the American THAAD stationed in the UAE carried out its first operational kill by destroying a medium-range ballistic missile.
The UAE will be the third owner of THAAD systems after the United States and Saudi Arabia. The UAE may purchase two THAAD batteries and up to 96 missiles for a maximum amount of $2.245 billion. But DSCA does not talk about the supply of AN/TPY-2 radars, without which THAAD cannot function. The deliveries included only a pair of LCS (Launch Control Station) and a pair of TOS (Tactical Operations Stations) command stations. The US Army will probably supply the information from the AN/TPY-2 radar located in the region.
The planned sale will strengthen the UAE’s capabilities to fight current and potential ballistic missile threats in the area while reducing reliance on US forces. The UAE, which presently employs the THAAD system, will have no trouble assimilating this technology into its military forces, writes DSCA.
THAAD provides defense against short- to medium-range ballistic missiles (range up to 5,500 kilometres), to a limited extent, even intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) warheads. The independently manoeuvrable infrared-guided THAAD missile warhead destroys missiles in mid-flight in and out of the atmosphere (up to 200 kilometres above the surface). The target is destroyed by a direct hit.
Patriots for Saudi Arabia
DSCA reports that the Saudis will replenish their dwindling stockpile with 300 MIM-104E GEM-T (Guidance Enhanced Missile-Tactical Ballistic Missiles).
The Patriot PAC-3 sets form the Saudi air defense system. The Saudi Patriots are constantly on operational deployment and regularly destroy drones and ballistic missiles fired by Houthi rebels from neighbouring Yemen. The Yemeni rebels are supplied and controlled by Iran, and their attacks are mainly directed against the Saudi oil and gas infrastructure.
According to Saudi sources, from 2015 to the end of 2021, Iran launched 431 ballistic missiles and 851 armed/kamikaze drones against Saudi Arabia with the help of Houthi rebels.
At the end of last year, there were reports of a dwindling stockpile of Saudi Patriot missiles. According to a Wall Street Journal article from March of this year, the Joe Biden administration arranged for an urgent transfer of Patriot missiles from the stockpiles of other Middle Eastern countries. Kuwait, Qatar, the UAE and Jordan have Patriot kits in their arsenal.
The GEM-T is a guided missile (it does not have an active radar) and manoeuvres using aerodynamic surfaces. In the final phase, the missile is guided using the onboard passive radar to the target, which is irradiated by the ground radar.
Missiles destroy planes, drones, helicopters, and in the latest version of ballistic missiles, even cruise missiles. The M903 launch vehicle of the Patriot set can hold four GEM-Ts.
The defense against ballistic threats in the Patriot set is mainly handled by the smaller and more agile PAC-3 MSE (Missile Segment Enhancement) missiles, which are controlled by correction nozzles, have their own active guidance radar and destroy the target with a direct hit. The M903 can hold up to 12 PAC-3 MSE missiles.
But the Saudis ordered only GEM-T missiles not the more advanced PAC-3 MSE.
On the other hand, the company Raytheon writes on its website about the improved ability of the latest versions of GEM-T to act against ballistic missiles. The GEM-T missile enhances the PAC-3 MSE’s potential to defeat tactical ballistic missiles, cruise missiles, and enemy aircraft, Raytheon writes. The latest versions of the GEM-T have a new proximity fuze and a new gallium nitride (GaN) transmitter that links the GEM-T to the Patriot suite’s fire command post.
The GEM-T has a range of 70 kilometres, an altitude reach of 24 kilometres and a powerful warhead weighing 90 kilograms. The minimum flight duration is nine seconds, and the maximum is three and a half minutes.
Saudi Arabia will pay $3.05 billion for 300 GEM-T missiles and related equipment.
By replenishing its decreasing inventory of PATRIOT GEM-T missiles, the proposed sale will boost the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s capabilities to resist existing and future threats. These missiles are deployed to protect Saudi Arabia’s borders against continued cross-border assaults by Houthi drone systems and ballistic missiles on civilian targets and essential infrastructure. These attacks endanger the lives of about 70,000 Saudi, foreign, and American people living in the Kingdom, states DSCA as the reason for the sale.