April 2, 2023

  • Saudi Arabia and the UAE have been investing heavily in new military hardware for the sake of Iran.
  • They continued to build even as President Joe Biden tried to reassure them of U.S. support.

Iran’s military operations in recent weeks have captured the world’s attention, sparking concern among the United States and its rivals across the Middle East.

On September 1, the Iranian navy briefly seized two U.S. Navy unmanned surface ships in the Red Sea, the second attempt to seize a U.S. drone in a week.

September 4, Iranian Air Force Commander Brig. General Hamid Wahdi, Say The country wants to buy Russia’s Su-35 fighter jets, which would be Tehran’s largest purchase of fighter jets since 1990.

The next day, Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Navy show off A new catamaran-style “patrol warship” equipped with vertically-launched missiles – a first for an Iranian naval vessel.

The operations come amid a prolonged military buildup by Iran’s neighbors, which seek to counter Tehran’s asymmetric capabilities by improving its air and naval power. Their rally continues despite President Joe Biden’s efforts to reassure them of U.S. support and improve relations in the face of growing geopolitical rivalry.

dominant air power

United Arab Emirates F-16 KC-10 Tanker

An Emirati F-16 prepares to connect with a US Air Force KC-10 tanker in August 2019.

US Air Force/Staff Sgt.Chris Dzazgowski

The vast oil wealth of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates makes them the top 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 on the market.

The heart of the Royal Saudi Air Force strength is its 232 F-15 Eagles, of which at least 84 are F-15SA variant Designed for Saudi Arabia. The RSAF also operates 71 Eurofighter Typhoon warrior and 66 Panavia Tornado attack aircraft.

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

Royal Saudi Air Force F-15

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

US Air Force/Staff Sgt.Katherine Walters

Saudi aircraft continue to play a major role in Riyadh’s campaign in Yemen.Their actions make it impossible for the Houthis to occupy important territory and prevent Houthi drones and missiles hit Saudi Arabia, but Saudi airstrikes are often linked to US supportcontinue kill civilians.

The UAE’s fleet is small but powerful, consisting of 78 F-16s and 49 Mirage 2000s For fighter and ground attack operations.

Over the past year, the UAE said it will buy 80 French-built Dassault Rafales and 12Made in China Hongdu L-15 Jet trainer, and 36 options.UAE too Negotiations are reportedly underway Turkish company Baykar 120 Bairaktar TB2 drone.

modern fleet

Royal Saudi Navy frigate HMS Badr

The Royal Saudi Navy frigate HMS Badr in the Persian Gulf in December 2020.

USN/MCS3 Louis Thompson Staats IV

The main battleships of the Saudi Navy are three Riyadh class frigate, four Medina class frigate, four Baldur-class frigateand nine Al Siddiq-class patrol ships.UAE’s warships consist of smaller ships: six Benuna class and a Abu Dhabi class frigates and 36 patrol ships.

Both navies plan to expand and modernize.

Riyadh signed four contracts with Lockheed Martin in 2017 multi-mission surface combatant Warship, a variant of the U.S. Navy’s Freedom-class Littoral Combat Ship.Saudis also have received Two built by five Spaniards Al Jubail class They ordered the frigate in 2018. The final three are expected to be delivered in 2024.Kingdom also ordered 39 HSI32 interceptor Vessels from the French shipbuilder CMN Group.

Meanwhile, the UAE ordered two Gowind 2500-class frigates from French Marine Group in 2019.The first frigate was roll out in December and the second in May.

In addition to protecting their own waters, both the Saudi and UAE navies are sending ships to support blockade Yemeni.

Evolving threats, priorities and procurement

United Arab Emirates Bayunah class frigate

The first Baynunah-class frigate ordered by the UAE sailed for the first time in June 2009 at Cherbourg, France.


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

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

Due to sanctions and a limited industrial base, Iran is largely unable to build and deploy advanced military hardware. It has shifted from trying to match an adversary’s conventional capabilities to focusing on things like missile and drone development.

“They’ve gone beyond a bunch of stuff they’re not good at, they’re focused on what they’re pretty good at right now,” Knight told Insider.

Iranian Missile Depot It is the largest in the Middle East, and its capabilities are also very strong. drone fleet.

January 2020 Iranian missile attack damages Iraqi base

U.S. soldiers and journalists inspect the damage after being hit by an Iranian missile at the Assad base in Iraq.

AP Photo/Qassim Abdul-Zahra

Since 2015, Yemen and Iran have launched hundreds of missile and drone strikes against Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates using Iranian-made hardware. In January 2020, Iran fired more than a dozen ballistic missiles at U.S. bases in Iraq after the U.S. assassinated Major General Qassem Soleimani.

Iran has been providing drones to Moscow Like Russia’s military struggle in Ukraine. In mid-September, Ukraine said it had destroyed an Iranian drone used by Russian forces for the first time.

Iran also has developed air defense system This is likely to effectively defend its own territory.

But the advanced weapons now deployed by Iran and its neighbors, combined with the narrow area in the Gulf, means that any conflict would be costly for both sides.

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

As a result, Saudi Arabia and the UAE have been placing greater emphasis on developing air and missile defense systems.both are Invest in unmanned systems.

Both countries are working to integrate and network their drones and systems with each other, and the U.S. has supportedand participated in or hosted many military exercises involving drones, including this year’s international maritime exercise led by the United States, greatest sport Unmanned systems in the world.

Unmanned naval ships in Bahrain

U.S. and Bahraini officials in front of an unmanned naval vessel during a Bahraini naval support event in Manama in January.

USN/MCS1 Mark Thomas Mahmod

IMX 2022 too the first time Israel and Saudi Arabia, which do not have diplomatic relations, officially participated in the exercise together.

Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have turned to their burgeoning defense industries to make such weapons, but the Biden administration — which has frozen arms sales to Saudi Arabia after taking office over human rights issues related to the war in Yemen — now appears to be skeptical about adding The Saudis have an open mind and the UAE’s arsenal as part of its efforts to improve relations.

Just weeks after visiting the Middle East in July 2021, Biden approved a $5 billion arms sale that included as many as 300 Patriot missile interceptors for Saudi Arabia and two missiles for the United Arab Emirates. A terminal high-altitude area defense system with 96 interceptors.

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

“But if the anti-missile and anti-drone trend continues in the direction it is now, the GCC may be better prepared to protect itself from the Iranians, which is an interesting trend break,” he added Say.

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