Intelligence: Surveillance in the Persian Gulf


June 28, 2023: The Ukraine War has caused most NATO nations, including the United States, to concentrate on what is going on in Ukraine, often at the expense of commitments elsewhere. This is particularly important in the Persian Gulf, which contains nearly half the world's known oil reserves and produces 30 percent of oil exports. The importance of this oil to the world led in 2019 to the formation of the IMSC (International Maritime Security Construct), a military coalition of nations currently or planning to take part in patrolling the Gulf and its approaches with warships and maritime patrol aircraft and discourage attacks on ships, Then, as now, the primary threat was Iran. The commanders of IMSC have so far been British. Before the UAE (United Arab Emirates) left IMSC in April, members were; Albania, Bahrain, Britain, Estonia, Lithuania, Romania, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, United States and Seychelles. Australia was a member but left in late 2020. The UAE has long been the most active Gulf nation when it came to dealing with Iranian aggression. This extended to Yemen, where an Iran-backed civil war between the Shia and Sunni Yemenis has raged since 2014. The UAE intervention played a major role in forcing Iran to admit it was behind the Shia uprising and smuggling weapons to them. Forces now part of IMSC have long been looking for smugglers and armed outlaws in the Persian Gulf. While there have been a few Islamic terrorist attacks, the major trouble maker has been Iran. The Shia religious dictatorship that has ruled Iran since the 1980s believes Iran should control what it does on in the Gulf, especially when it comes to oil and natural gas exports.

UAE itself has a relatively small, but well-equipped and trained military consisting of 65,000 active duty and 150,000 reserve troops. Most active duty personnel (44,000) belong to the army and are organized into eight brigades. They have 3,000 personnel and 72 ships, most of them small armed patrol boats. There are nine corvettes, which are larger and more heavily armed. There are also two minehunters and 30 amphibious warfare ships. The air force is larger and more powerful than the navy, with 4,000 personnel and 550 aircraft. These include 145 jet fighters, twelve maritime patrol/surveillance aircraft with more on order. There are three aerial refueling aircraft, 35 transports, 15 helicopters, 128 trainer aircraft and 88 large UAVs, many of them capable of carrying laser-guided missiles. Most of the combat aircraft pilots are UAE citizens. Most support aircraft are flown by foreigners and most of the pilot instructors are foreigners.

Only 12 percent of the 10 million people living and working in the UAE are citizens, so many or most of its active-duty military personnel are foreigners. Since 2014 UAE has had conscription, which mandates all UAE males aged between 17 and 30 years of age must serve at least 11 months in the military. This leads to more Emirati men becoming career-military as well as providing a trained reserve force. Women are allowed to join the military and at least three have become jet fighter pilots. The UAE has the most professional, experienced and effective armed forces of any Gulf nation. Iran has a larger population of 87 million and 650,00o personnel in the armed forces. Iran has two separate armed forces. The conventional force has 420,000 personnel while the IRGC (Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps) exists to protect the religious dictatorship from hostile Iranians, including members of the armed forces. The IRGC also carries out or organizes military operations against foreigners. These operations sometimes include fatalities or major economic damage. That’s what the Iranian IRGC seizures of foreign tankers in the Persian Gulf are about. The IRGC carries out the airborne (via helicopters) assaults on tankers and seizes them. Iran has long threatened to halt oil exports from the Persian Gulf but has never been able to carry out the threat, even though some attempts have been made. The UAE armed forces were organized and armed to deal with the worst that the IRGC could attempt. The reluctance of Western members of the IMSC to deal with Iranian threats is the main reason the UAE left the group. The UAE is capable of acting on its own and the IMSC members can join the effort if they wish.

The key to this UAE strategy is a high degree of surveillance on what the IRGC is up to. That’s where the very capable surveillance aircraft comes in. The best surveillance aircraft the UAE has comes from Sweden, which manufactures and exports GlobalEye AEW (airborne early warning)/ELINT (Electronic Intelligence) aircraft. These cost about half a billion dollars each. The UAE can afford that. GlobalEye is built by Saab and uses a Bombardier 6000 business jet to carry the Swedish Erieye long range radar in addition to an assortment of electronic monitoring systems. The UAE already has four GlobalEyes and always indicated a need for more to deal with the growing threat from Iran. The UAE also backs a wider program to link ground and air-based surveillance radars of GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council) states (Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE) into a cooperative surveillance network that would provide all GCC members with better information on that is going on in the skies over their nations and the Persian Gulf in general. The recent recognition of Israel by the UAE makes possible the incorporation of Israeli data into GCC system,

Globaleye includes a maritime search radar as well as upgraded AEW radar. Since a combined AEW maritime search system is heavier and needs more space, as well as operating farther from land, Globaleye has a cruising speed of 900 kilometers an hour and endurance of about ten hours. The Erieye system is built around an Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radar which consists of thousands of tiny radars that can be independently aimed in different directions. This is similar to the AESA radar used on the American JSTARS aircraft, a system that can also locate vehicles moving on the ground. The Swedish AESA is cheaper because it's built like a long bar, mounted on top of the aircraft. This means the radar can only see, in a 120-degree arc, off both sides of the aircraft. A 60-degree arc in the front and back is uncovered. The Erieye ER radar can spot large aircraft out to nearly 500 kilometers, and more common fighter-sized aircraft at about 400 kilometers.

The UAE uses these aircraft to manage air campaigns, including the one underway in Yemen since March 2015. The primary use for UAE AEW aircraft is to deter an attack by Iran.


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