Middle East Missile & Air Defense Conference (MEMAD 2008)

Post Event Synopsis - Day One

During the first day of INEGMA’s Middle East Missile & Air Defence Conference, all speakers expressed that the missile threat is a great concern, which came to the fore after being used in past conflicts involving Iran and Iraq, and in the Gulf war. If war breaks out again in the region, missiles will be used again. As a result, today the Gulf and the Middle East is forward leaning in trying to understand Ballistic Missile Defense (BMD). Iran and North Korea are the main suppliers to the black market for missile components with them developing sophisticated new technologies estimated to encompass the entire missile spectrum by 2015.

The keynote speaker, Ms. Mary Beth Long, U.S. Assistant Secretary of Defense, flying in from Bahrain after a meeting with U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, began by identifying early detection and tracking capabilities as crucially important: seeking as many engagement opportunities to counter a launched missile and determining the likelihood of effectiveness of any such system. Highlighting the three phases of flight that ballistic missiles take during their trajectory--the boost, mid-course, and terminal phases--Ms. Long said all provided opportunities, in principle, to employ counterforce actions. The United States DoD is said to be working on all three areas.

Although there may be some questions about U.S. components by European colleagues, the success record of testing shows their strength. In addition, debris and vulnerability issues remain for detractors, but kinetic energy helps to kill incoming missiles. On policy, the U.S. sees Iran’s capabilities are best suited to hit in the Gulf region where there would lead to national catastrophe and an international economic crisis. BMD, consequently, helps unite the GCC via a cooperative and multilateral approach. Finally, Ms. Long argued there is no reason to think that a post-Bush administration would give any less importance to work in the area of defence against ballistic and cruise missile threats--the objective of these systems is simply to enhance defensive capabilities.

The GCC nations and other countries that are participating in this conference reflect the special nature of the conference, and there is a unique opportunity to find common ground, delegates were told by the Deputy Commander of the UAE Air Force and Air Defence, Brigadier General Saif Rashid AlZahmy, Assistant Chief of Air Force. Present at the conference as a VIP was also Deputy Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, Staff Major General Saeed Mohammed Khalaf al Rumaithi, who was attending on behalf of the Chief of Staff.

Speaking after the opening session, Dr. Michael Connell, a research analyst at the Centre for Naval Analysis in the U.S., spoke on the threat of cruise and ballistic missile proliferation in and around the Arab Gulf region. After a brief overview of the evolution of ballistic missiles, the discussion was expanded to why some states today are so focused on developing their sophistication in related areas. Cruise and ballistic missile are employed for the deterrence value because they are relatively difficult to defeat. Being able to deliver nuclear and WMD payloads also makes them particularly attractive to states who are looking to develop offensive capabilities because they often offer a cheaper alternative than what is achieved through similar spending on the air force. Based on history, where there have been 16 conflicts with ballistic missiles, nine of these conflicts were in the Middle East. As such, there is no taboo inhibiting the use of missiles. Missile proliferation in the Middle East is dense if one includes the surrounding states of the former Soviet Union and South Asia. Iran, as a case study, remains a threat because it has the largest inventory.

General (R’td) Khalid Abdullah Bu Ainnain, Former Commander of the UAE Air Force and Air Defense, President of INEGMA, and a leading intellectual on regional missile and air defence, told attending delegates how first generation ballistic missiles were designed with an artillery-like trajectory, where immediate range was obtained by cutting-off the engine. Flight time is a constraint for air defence, where operations of first generation missiles take six hours and thirty seconds to launch. But there are first generation system limitations. Using simulated animation to aide his discussion of the areas with delegates, advanced generation systems were explored in more detail. Next generation systems, which have a separable warhead, have greater accuracy and use multi-stage solid propellant technology. These new generation theater ballistic missiles (TBD) thus possess greater accuracy and maneuverability with key Penetration Aids or PENAIDS. Consequently, debris, chaffs with corner cubes and reflectors, plus decoys in the “exo” stage are the worst to try to defeat because of having to launch so many counters.

Another discussion, led by Dr. Bernd Kubbig of the Peace Research Institute Frankfurt, who leads a Ballistic Missile Defence Research Program, looked at how the number of states trying to acquire ballistic missile technology has decreased. For example, once the source of concern as a result of their missile development programs, today Afghanistan, Libya, and Iraq are no longer viewed as serious problems in the missile proliferation area. Syria and Egypt could potentially develop their capabilities in this area, but again, their programs are unlikely to rapidly deliver developments that can alter the balance of power in their wider regions. Thus, horizontal missile technology proliferation is not presently where the key challenge lies. Referring to vertical proliferation, where states already have the basic technology to produce short and medium range missiles, many such states are now known to be in the process of improving their systems and capabilities in terms of ability to deliver larger, or non-conventional, payloads or to expand the range of their missiles, or both.

On a non-state level, missile proliferation amongst ‘groups’ was also said to be becoming an important area of security, on local, national, and in the case of the Middle East, possibly even on a regional level. This was an emerging phenomenon and so most discussions tend to exclude discussion about missile proliferation on the lower levels. However, even less sophisticated missiles, like those used by Hizbollah, can give them, in terms of what they seek to achieve through employing such weapons, useful capability. With Kassam rockets, which cost an estimated $10 a piece, they can be used in large numbers, have a very small logistical footprint, do not need expensive or highly technical maintenance, or require sophisticated training.

How does one respond when threatened with such weapons? The answer is found in how states appropriate funds toward its defence-- in particular for capability development vis-à-vis missile and air defense--when funds are limited. Pointing out that missile defence, while useful, is not in itself a exhaustive solution, but nonetheless an expensive one. Perhaps states need to work toward resolving the political disputes which create climates that lead to military conflict.

Gerome Maffert, who leads MBDA’s business development, provided delegates with a presentation about defining mission objectives, understanding requirements, and planning for possible solutions to multiple ballistic and aerodynamic attacks. Protecting airfields, power infrastructure, and other critical areas are obviously crucial to limit damage during a time of attack--or else the possibility of losing counterforce capability is a real danger, either logistically, time critically, or because of break down in public confidence in the state. Both the maritime and a ground environment should provide the basis for projected forces to protect national territory.

General (R’td) Khalid Abdullah Bu Ainnain’s second presentation assessed cruise missile proliferation in the region and offered a detailed analysis of cruise missile technology proliferation-- showing how serious of a concern this trend is. Cruise missile, by definition, are standoff and deep targeting weapons that are accurate and cost-effective across a variety of platforms. The race to sophistication has reached a dangerous step. Advanced generation cruise missiles are entering now into service in the Middle East region. Strategic access in the Gulf region could be made difficult or denied. As such, strategic assets in the Gulf region are directly threatened. The danger posed by the threatening potential of the cruise missiles needs a prompt and strong response.

One of the final briefings of the first day of MEMAD, presented by Major General Timothy Rush, Deputy Commander of AFCENT, looked at regional integrated methods for robust defenses against attack. The use of sophisticated technologies to help sync communications helps to breakdown the enemy’s ability to attack. From a doctrinal perspective, a regional approach in the Middle East makes sense. Expanding the dialog to a multilateral discussion, instead of a bi-lateral approach, and looking into the development of a Regional Integrated Air and Missile Defense (RIAMD) concept of operations, would allow us to formulate a realistic architecture and eventually exercise these concepts. Over the past several years, our exercises have shown the viability of this concept which provides a layered interoperable defense through national execution, MG Rush said. Theater active missile defense systems are primarily SAM systems and their supporting infrastructure. Although TBM launches are detected and warnings are sent with the predicted impact point, engagements are only possible once missile defense radars detect them. Early detection will permit our upper tier engagement systems to track, engage and defeat the TBM well before its intended target area.

Multi-engagements may be necessary, and established and well orchestrated integrated air and missile defense will avoid the possible engagement errors discussed earlier today. TBMs (or SSMs) are characterized by their trajectory, having one or more boosters and an initial steering vector. They have a range of less than 5500 kilometers and can travel this distance in 5 to 20 minutes. TBMs normally are carried on a Transportable Erector Launcher (TEL) so mobility enhances TBM survivability and, conversely, complicates their being targeted. Their long range affords the enemy increased options in selecting operating areas and determining potential targets. For example, TBMs have been exported by many nations-- the Scud and its derivatives being the most common. Overall the way ahead on these issues involves using existing forums such as the Middle East Air Symposium, the Network Centric Operations conference, and others to advocate the RIMAD concept.