Washington boasts strong military presence in the Persian Gulf. Iran and Yemen are the only countries of the region that don’t host US military facilities. The American armed forces use large air installations in Qatar and expand operations in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Oman. Bahrain is home to the US Navy’s Fifth Fleet. The US has encouraged the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) member states to purchase and install the Patriot Advanced Capability-3 (PAC-3) and the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) advanced missile defense systems.
The US and the GCC countries underscored a commitment to build the defense system at a summit in May 2015. Formally, the «Iranian threat» was used as a pretext. A joint statement following the summit said that the GCC states were committed to developing a ballistic missile defense capability, including an early warning system, with US technical support. The development of a robust integrated BMD network across the region is a primary goal for the US military. It guarantees that the GCC security will depend on the United States.
On December 10, Secretary Ashton Carter told an audience at the International Institute of Strategic Studies (IISS) regional security conference in Manama, Bahrain, that an agreement had been reached to allow Qatar to purchase a long range early warning radar (EWR) from Raytheon. «We reached an agreement for Qatar to purchase a 5,000 km [range] early warning radar to enhance its missile defenses», the official announced.
In July 2013, the Defense Security Cooperation Agency notified Congress of a possible Foreign Military Sale to Qatar of A/N FPS-132 Block 5 Early Warning Radar (EWR) and associated equipment, parts, training and logistical support for an estimated cost of $1.1 billion.
According to Raytheon, the AN/FPS-132 system is designed to detect missile launches that take place thousands of miles away to provide advanced warning time to alert command and control centers and cue fire control systems. ‘This highly reliable radar requires very low manning, yet will operate 365 days a year, 24 hours a day, providing up to 360 degrees of coverage out to 5,000km,’ said Steve Sparagna, chief engineer for the AN/FPS-132 EWR. ‘It is the ideal sensor to deter and detect hostile missile launches.’
According to Michael Elleman, a senior fellow for missile defence with the IISS, the system in future can provide not only Qatar but a unified GCC ballistic missile defence system an early warning capability against any Iranian ballistic missile launches.
The AN/FPS-132 to be based in Qatar is a very special case. It is designed to be used as an early warning system against strategic offensive assets – something Iran does not possess. For instance, the radars of this type are located in Beale Air Force Base, California, RAF Fylingdales, the United Kingdom, and Thule Air Base, Greenland to operate in the Ground-based Midcourse Defense (GMD) BMD system (BMDS). Following formal Missile Defense Agency (MDA) ground test events in FY17/18, Clear and Cape Cod upgraded EWRs (UEWR) are scheduled to be BMDS certified in FY18/19, respectively.
The announced range of 5,000km (3,100mi) by far exceeds the requirement to counter a missile threat coming from Iran. There are radars with shorter range to support the PAC-3 and THAAD systems deployed by GCC countries. In theory, the truck-mounted AN/TPY-2 is the right system for the mission. It can spot a missile launch from hundreds of miles away. If it is effective enough to be stationed in South Korea to counter Pyongyang and monitor parts of China, why is it different in the case of Persian Gulf?
The deployment of AN/FPS-132 to Qatar is not needed to support NATO assets stationed in Europe against Iran. A high powered early warning X band radar is stationed in Malatya, Turkey to carry out the mission. It is operational since January 2012. There is no answer why exactly the AN/FPS-132 – the UEWR with such an impressive detection range - should be used to counter Iran from the Gulf. The distance from Qatar to Iran is just 821 kilometers (510mi). It takes roughly 1,700 km (1,056mi) to reach Turkmenistan from Qatar across the territory of Iran. The AN/TPY-2 covers the whole country. The radar’s estimated range is from 1,500km (932mi) to 3,000km (1,864mi). The maximum instrumented range is 2,000km (1242mi). Obviously, one does not need a radar with an operational range of 5,000km to counter a threat coming from Iran. There is no other reasonable explanation for the choice, except the fact that the AN/FPS-132 can monitor large chunks of Russian territory.
Janes, perhaps unwittingly, confirms the fact. It says, «Raytheon was awarded a USD2.4 billion contract in December 2014 to build Qatar an Air and Missile Defence Operations Centre (ADOC) that it said will «integrate US air defence systems - including Patriot, the Early Warning Radar, and THAAD - with European air defence systems and radars, and Qatar's Air Operation Centre». It proves that the Qatar-based AN/FPS-132 UEWR is an element of the emerging US global BMDS created to counter Russian nuclear strategic forces.
The announcement of the US-Qatar deal is a demonstration of US adamant resolve to surround the Russian Federation with BMD sites and neutralize its capability to deliver a retaliatory strike if attacked. This is a very disturbing fact. Russia will not sit idle watching the developments. The US has just taken another provocative step to undermine Russia’s security and complicate the bilateral relations.