U.S. Wants to Stitch Together Persian Gulf Antimissile Framework

WASHINGTON -- For the first time, two Persian Gulf nations will participate in a major U.S.-led multinational antimissile exercise -- a small sign of progress in Obama administration efforts to persuade the region to form a joint shield against a perceived rising threat from Iran.

Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have agreed to take part in “Nimble Titan,” a biannual international ballistic missile defense exercise that will start later this year at different locations and continue into 2014, the head of the U.S. Army’s Space and Missile Defense Command said on Tuesday.

“The war game is an invaluable engagement tool, it’s an integral part of missile defense policy,” according to Lt. Gen. Richard Formica.

Turkey will also participate for the first time in the exercise, Formica said at a Capitol Hill breakfast. Ankara is a NATO member and is currently hosting Patriot air and missile defense systems fielded by Germany, the Netherlands, and the United States as a shield against feared Syrian missile launches.

To date, 21 countries have accepted invitations to participate in the event, up from 14 states in the 2012 campaign, according to May congressional testimony by Madelyn Creedon, assistant Defense secretary for global strategic affairs. The tabletop exercise will focus on scenarios emanating from Southwest and Northeast Asia “as well as a capstone event involving all participants on a global scale,” she said.

Much of the U.S. missile defense cooperation in the Persian Gulf is so far taking place through bilateral cooperation agreements with partner states.

Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates are both major purchasers of U.S. antimissile technology. Other fellow members of the Gulf Cooperation Council, Qatar, Oman, and Kuwait, have also purchased missile defense systems from the United States.

Though the six-member GCC group in April 2012 tacitly agreed to cooperate in forming a regional ballistic missile shield, there has not been much substantial progress toward having the countries integrate their respective capabilities.

“There’s two kinds really of requirements that you gotta get after,” Formica said in explaining the process for establishing a Persian Gulf missile shield. “One, there is political integration, which is probably the first thing you have to deal with: Who will allow a system to be used to either defend someone else’s homeland or will you allow someone else’s system to be integral to the defense of yours? So you’ve got to deal with that policy issue first.

“The second is the technical challenge to stitch it all together. We’ve got a long way to go on both fronts,” the general continued. “It’s something that Central Command has taken on with full vigor.”

Due to budget constraints, Nimble Titan this year will be solely a tabletop exercise and not involve interactive war games as in previous iterations. “But we’ve designed this so we can still get at many of the major issues that we need to address,” Formica said.

Sensor integration will be one focus of the upcoming exercise, according to Formica. It involves ensuring that deployed sensors are working seamlessly with each other and command-and-control in transmitting and receiving data about detected potential missile threats.

Improving the capability of the sensors and radars that are charged with detecting missile threats and then distinguishing between actual warheads and any distracting decoys and debris is “critical,” he said. “We must continue to invest in improved sensor coverage.”

June 4, 2013
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WASHINGTON -- For the first time, two Persian Gulf nations will participate in a major U.S.-led multinational antimissile exercise -- a small sign of progress in Obama administration efforts to persuade the region to form a joint shield against a perceived rising threat from Iran.