The Despite the turmoil of the ‘Arab Spring’ uprising in many Arab states, the Middle East continues to be one of the world’s leading markets for defense systems. Israel’s Institute of National Security Studies has released the annual assessment of Middle East military forces. Following is a short assessment by the editor of the report Yiftah S. Shapir.
The report is part of the new publication “Strategic Survey for Israel 2011” Edited by Anat Kurz and Shlomo Brom, this volume includes thirteen analytical essays written by INSS researchers. Focus is on Israel’s strategic environment in the period under review, particularly in the wake of the major changes experienced in the Middle East commonly known as the “Arab spring.” The ongoing Palestinian issue and Iran’s nuclear program remain at the fore of the challenges facing Israel. Other issues explored in the volume include the “new” Middle East and the role of the superpowers;Turkey’s regional role; and questions of particular urgency to Israel, including the deligitimization threat, military and civilian defense, and economic challenges.
Middle East arms acquisitions are dominated by Persian Gulf markets, as these states perceive a growing threat from Iran’s drive toward regional hegemony. The fact that all the countries along the coast of the Gulf procured and deployed Patriot SAM batteries with added capabilities against ballistic missiles is testifying to the severity of the threat they perceive. Iraq is investing large amounts of money to rebuild its military from scratch, while Iran, unable to acquire weapons in the open markets is relying mostly on its indigenous industry.
Israel continues to implement the lessons of the Second Lebanon War (2006) and Operation Cast Lead (2008-9). It continues to buy advanced fighter jets and surveillance and early warning planes and expand its satellite capabilities. At the same time, it has accelerated the rate of outfitting the military with anti-rocket systems and with better protected armored personnel carriers and tanks.
The Arab Maghreb is also arming itself. Algeria is absorbing its acquisitions from Russia and from Europe, while Morocco is making an effort and stretches its limited resources to renew its military with acquisitions in the US and Europe.
As a result of the recent developments in the region, most of the Arab states that are not monarchies are undergoing changes. In some cases these changes have already affected the command structure and the military forces (e.g., in Libya, Syria, and Yemen), and are expected to affect existing and future programs (e.g., in Egypt).
In summary, INSS assessment expects states with financing capabilities will continue to arm themselves with precision guided weapon systems, aerial warning systems, and intelligence. At the same time, the threats of guerrilla warfare and terrorism originating in the region and in neighboring countries will increase the importance of arms dedicated to fighting terrorism, defending against rockets and missiles, and protecting population centers. Since arms deals are processes that proceed slowly, trends in arms acquisitions presented in previous recent INSS annual publications are still valid.
These include: acquisitions of the most advanced and sophisticated weapon systems, primarily by oil-rich countries; efforts to develop indigenous military industries; and reduction of expenses by upgrading older weapon systems rather than purchasing new ones. The countries in the region with limited monetary resources that do not receive defense assistance from the US cannot compete in the advanced weaponry market. Instead, they tend to adopt asymmetrical approaches that enable them to counter the technological advantages of their rivals. They rely on guerilla warfare and terrorism on the one hand, and on the other hand, on strategic capability offered by ballistic missiles, artillery rockets, and weapons of mass destruction. Non-state actors such as Hizbollah and Hamas continue to develop semi-regular military forces with large inventories of artillery rockets, as well as anti-tank and anti-aircraft capabilities.
The US remains the biggest weapons supplier to the region. Russia has also made attempts to extend its market share in the region, but so far with limited success. Other important players are key European Union countries, particularly France and the UK. In addition, indigenous military industries play an important role in some states in the region. Israel and Turkey operate the most advanced industries, while the UAE is investing extensive resources to build its own military industry. Iran too aims to be as autonomous as possible in its weapons production, although its industry’s actual capability is far smaller that what is officially declared.
Following are some of the defense modernization and procurement highlights for 2011, by country:
Algeria is in the midst of a massive military expansion. At the heart of this expansion is a large weapons deal with Russia (approximately $8 billion). Within the framework of this arms deal Algeria received 180 T-90 tank and
28 Su-30MKA combat aircraft. The first batches of these aircraft arrived in 2007 and are already operational. Recently Algeria signed a further contract for additional Su-30. Algeria received two Il-78 refueling aircraft and its air defense forces received some Tunguska and Pantsyr point defense systems, although no heavy systems, such as the S-300 PMU-2, arrived. Aside from the Russian deal, Algeria signed a large deal for some 30 utility helicopters of several types from Italy. This deal follows a previous deal for ten helicopters that were already supplied.
The Algerian navy received two Type 636 submarines, but there is no news regarding its intention to acquire four frigates. This deal is still under negotiations with potential suppliers in France, Germany, Italy, and Great Britain. Meanwhile Algeria began taking deliveries of its FPB-98 small patrol boats from France.
Another significant development was the launch of Algeria’s first satellite with some military capabilities: the ALSAT-2A. This satellite carries a multi-spectral camera with resolution of 2.5m, manufactured by EADS Astrium. A second satellite is being assembled in Algeria.
Egypt, like Israel, benefits from ongoing American defense aid and recieves $1.3 billion a year. An agreement signed in 2007 ensures Egypt continued aid at least until 2018, which enables Egypt to purchase American-made weapons without having to worry about economic difficulties. The future regime in Egypt will likely make efforts to maintain this aid, and therefore Egypt’s armament programs will not change course abruptly.
Egypt, which already boasts a substantial fleet of 217 F-16s, has ordered 20 more of these multi-role combat aircraft for $3.2 billion. Apart from this deal, Egypt’s primary deals in recent years have included AH-64D Apache attack helicopters (though the acquisition of the Longbow radar system for these helicopters has not yet been approved) and additional M1A1 Abrams tanks. These tanks are bought as kits for assembly in Egypt. Since starting to purchase these tanks, the Egyptian defense industry has assembled 880 tanks, and the new transaction, now underway, includes an additional 125 tanks.
Egypt also buys weapons from other sources, finances permitting. It is negotiating with Germany to buy Type 214 submarines (a model quite similar to the Israeli Dolphin class submarines). It maintains military contacts with Russia and other former Soviet Union countries – both for the upgrade of its aging Soviet era weapons (such as the recent upgrade of APCs in the Ukraine), and for acquisition of new weapon systems – such as the recent acquisition from Russia of Strelets point defense SAMs. In addition, the Egyptian navy has a standing order for four fast missile patrol boats from the US, the first of which is scheduled to be delivered in mid 2012.
Iran is in the midst of a long process of rearming its military, although reliable weapons suppliers are scarce because of the Security Council sanctions in force. Hopes for large arms deal with Russia were shelved as Russia, in light of the sanctions, officially declined to supply Iran with S-300 air defense systems ordered (and paid for) by Iran.
Iran continues to arm itself with locally produced arms, mainly missiles and rockets. In the field of long range ballistic missiles, Iran has made
progress on two tracks: in the first track, Iran based its efforts on liquid fueled missiles, such as the Shehab-3. On the basis of this technology Iran developed the Safir-e-Omid satellite launcher, a two stage missile that launched the Kavoshgar research capsule and the Omid satellite in February 2009. A further development in the same direction was the heavy satellite launcher Simorgh, which was displayed in public but not yet tested. Another development in this direction was the Qiam-1 missile, test-launched in August 2010, probably to test new guidance and control systems. In the second track, Iran is also developing a two stage solid fuel powered surface-to-surface missile intended to reach a range of up to 2000 km. This missile, alternatively known as Ghadr, Sejjil, or Ashura was tested for the first time in November 2007 (and again in May and December 2009 – and possibly in early 2011 as well). These missiles will likely become operational within a few years.
It is harder to estimate Iran’s true R&D and production capabilities in other fields. The Iranian media reports regularly about the development of innovative weapon systems – tanks, armored personnel carriers, fighter planes, helicopters, various missiles (sea-to-sea, air-to-air, air-to-ground, surface-to-air), and more – but it is difficult to distinguish between propaganda and actual progress. For example, only recently the Iranian media reported on new precision guided munitions for combat aircraft and helicopters, new air defense systems, and new versions of coastal defense missiles, as well as the construction of a new destroyer and mini submarines. It does not seem that Iran is in fact capable of producing all the types and models it professes to produce in significant quantities Iran is certainly capable of producing several models of artillery rockets and perhaps some anti-tank and sea-to-sea missiles (based on Russian and Chinese designs). However there is no evidence, for example, that Iran is producing fighter planes with real capabilities of engaging in a modern battle, although it claims to have this capability.
The process of rebuilding the Iraqi military is taking longer than expected, and has been accompanied by a host of problems, including the lack of suitable personnel and graft and corruption connected to questionable arms deals. In purchasing, the Iraqi army is mostly engaged in basic outfitting of a military force. However, investment in rebuilding the army will also be complicated by the withdrawal of the remaining US forces, which have thus far guaranteed the day to day security of the country.
Sources for arms acquisitions are varied. The US supplied Iraq with its first M1A2 Abrams main battle tanks, APCs, T-6A training aircraft, helicopters, and fast patrol boats. France supplied helicopters; Ukraine supplied APCs; Russia supplied Mi-17 helicopters, and Serbia supplied more training aircraft. The Iraqi government also announced its intention to procure F-16 combat aircraft, but no contracts have yet been signed
Morocco is yet another country in the region that has undergone a substantial military buildup in recent years. After long and heated competition between suppliers, the Moroccan air force decided to procure 24 F-16 multi-role combat aircraft. These aircraft have apparently already been supplied. In addition, the Moroccan air force procured 24 T-6A Texan II trainers (12 of which have already been supplied), as well as four C-27J transport planes.
The Moroccan navy became the first export customer for the new French made FREMM frigates when it signed a deal for one such frigate, which is now being constructed in France.
When the deal was signed in 2007, Saudi Arabia’s acquisition of 72 Typhoons from the UK, at an estimated cost of $7.9 billion, was the most impressive deal in the Middle East. At the same time, Saudi Arabia also ordered upgrades for its Tornado and for its F-15S combat aircraft. Other major deals that exceeded the Typhoon deal have since followed. Another major deal, signed in mid 2009, involves an upgrade to the Saudi Arabian National Guard (SANG). The contract, worth some $2.2 billion, is for the acquisition of different types of combat armored vehicles. The upgrade program is typically divided between the US and France, from which SANG ordered new artillery pieces.
Additional arms orders include more M1A2 tanks from the US, as well as upgrades for existing tanks – a transaction of some $3 billion. This project also includes setting up a large facility that will assemble the tanks in the kingdom. In late 2010 the US administration approved further sales valued at $60 billion. These include the sale of 84 new F-15S combat aircraft, as well as upgrade of the existing F-15S in Saudi inventory, and hundreds of helicopters – AH-64D Apache attack helicopters and UH- 60 M Black Hawk utility helicopters, as well as light reconnaissance helicopters – for the Saudi land forces and for the Saudi National Guard. These authorizations have yet to be turned into actual contracts but they are indicative of Saudi intentions, as well as US willingness to support the country.
The UAE armed forces are among the military forces that have grown most intensively. The UAE, like other Gulf states, prefers to deal with a variety of vendors and buys primarily from the US and France. The UAE beefed up its air force with 63 Mirage 2000-9 planes from France and 80 F-16E/F planes, a model developed specifically for the Emirates, and the country has continued to procure equipment for the air force, navy, and air defense forces. It signed a deal to upgrade the 30 Apache helicopters to the AH-64D model, and ordered three Airbus A330 refueling aircraft. More recently it ordered twelve C-130J tactical transport aircraft as well as six C-17 Globemaster strategic transport aircraft.
The Baynunah ships project has been underway for several years. These corvettes were designed in France, and the first of them is being built by the CMN shipyard in Cherbourg, France. The rest are constructed in Abu Dhabi by ADSB. Despite the French design and local manufacture, some of the armaments will actually be American-made. Thus, for example, the UAE has ordered RAM missiles from Raytheon Corporation to defend the ships against cruise missiles.
The UAE is investing heavily in air defense systems and ballistic missile defense systems that will be supplied in the coming years in different deals estimated at some $9 billion. In the realm of air defense, the UAE was scheduled to receive the Russian-made Pantsyr S-1 systems, short range mobile air defense systems developed in Russia at the UAE’s request and with its funding. It will also include in the short term upgrades for the Patriot missile batteries it already has and purchases of the PAC-3 interceptors (for ballistic missile interception) for these batteries. In the longer run it will include the purchase from the US of THAAD dedicated anti-ballistic missile defense systems. The value of this transaction is estimated at about $7 billion.