The island Emirate of Bahrain sits in such a strategic location within the Persian Gulf, that its own armed forces serve more of a tripwire and delaying function. Their goal is to control the lanes around Bahrain, make initial entry difficult, and buy time for its foreign allies to intervene. The country serves as the headquarters for the US Navy’s regional 5th Fleet, and recently cooperated with Saudi Arabia and the Gulf Cooperation Council to suppress internal unrest among its Shia population.
A recent request for mobile TOW short range guided missile launchers illustrates that military philosophy. While they could conceivably be used in an internal security role, this buy is more calibrated toward external defense…
Want a TOW?
TOW missiles can be used against enemy fortifications in an urban fight, so its conceivable that they could find themselves used if Bahrain experienced a full armed internal rebellion – an event that would require a much higher level of active involvement form Iran. The small percentage (around 17%) of the order that involves 50 BGM-71H “bunker buster” missiles could certainly be used for this.
With their published range of around 4 km/ 2.5 miles, and nose spike to help them penetrate even reactive armor, BGM-71E TOW 2A missiles are most useful to Bahrain as assault breakers, or in scout roles. As assault breakers, they can quickly deploy to destroy enemy armored vehicles that may land, or speedboats that get too close to a key facility. If deployed externally as part of a Gulf Cooperation Council endeavor, the HMMWV/TOW combination offers effective scout vehicles, whose weapons and long-range optics are especially potent in desert environments with good lines of sight.
The BGM-71F TOW 2B Aeros add more range, and rely on top-attack mode using twin EFP (explosively-formed penetrator) warheads, but their best-fit uses are the same as the TOW-2A.
Contracts & Key Events
August 11/16: Raytheon is to provide tube-launched, optically tracked, wireless-guided (TOW) missiles to the US Army, Bahrain, and Morocco. Completion of the $129 million foreign military sales contract is expected for August 2018. TOWs are integrated on several platforms as an anti-armor system by over 40 countries.
Jan 15/13: ProPublica reveals the contents of Freedom of Information requests regarding US arms sales to Bahrain. There wasn’t much comment from the government, and key items like the TOWs are still murky. State Department spokesman Noel Clay told ProPublica:
“We continue to withhold the export of lethal and crowd-control items intended predominately for internal security purposes, and have resumed on a case-by-case basis items related exclusively to external defense, counter-terrorism, and the protection of U.S. forces.”
Deliveries include a VIP UH-60M helicopter for the Royal Family. Sources: ProPublica, “Revealed: America’s Arms Sales To Bahrain Amid Bloody Crackdown”.
May 11/12: Still blocked. The USA is reportedly resuming some weapon sales to Bahrain, which were suspended in October 2011 after Bahrain and Saudi Arabia crushed civil unrest. The weapons reportedly include air-to-air missile and ammunition, but not HMMWVs or anti-tank missiles. from the US Department of State:
“We have made the decision to release additional items to Bahrain mindful of the fact that there are a number of serious unresolved human rights issues that the Government of Bahrain needs to address. We will continue to maintain the holds on the TOW missiles and Humvees that were notified to Congress last October. Certain additional items for the Bahrain Defense Force, as well as all items for the Ministry of the Interior, excepting the Coast Guard and units deployed in Afghanistan, will also remain on hold. The items that we are releasing are not used for crowd control.”
Oct 19/11: Maybe not. The US State Department is backing away from its Sept 14/11 notification:
“The department will review the [Bahraini] commission’s findings carefully and assess the government of Bahrain’s efforts to implement the recommendations and make needed reforms…. We will weigh these factors and confer with Congress before proceeding with additional steps related to the recently notified arms sale.”
The Wall Street Journal cited Congressional sources who doubted that a blockage would have passed a vote in Congress, but the State Department’s action made the question moot. Opponents of the sale included Sen. Ron Wyden [D-OR], Sen. Richard Durbin [D-IL], Sen. Benjamin Cardin [D-MD], Robert Menendez [D-NJ] and Bob Casey [D-PA]. Sources: WSJ, “Administration Holds Up Bahrain Arms Sale in Response to Abuses”.
Sept 14/11: The US Defense Security Cooperation Agency announces [PDF] the Government of Bahrain’s formal request to buy 44 HMMWV jeeps equipped with TOW missile launchers, and accompanying missiles. Bahrain already uses the TOW as its Army’s main anti-armor weapon, but these will be a new variant. While the name is “Tube-launched Optically-tracked Wire-guided” (TOW) Missiles,” the new models don’t uncoil a wire behind them, relying instead on encrypted radio guidance. Even so, if the sale goes through, it won’t require any additional US government or contractor personnel to help.
If Congress doesn’t block the sale, and contracts are negotiated, the prime contractors will be AM General in South Bend, IN, and Raytheon Missile Systems Corporation in Tucson, AZ. The estimated cost is up to $53 million, and the exact request involves:
* 44 M1152A1B2 Armored High Mobility Multi-Purpose Wheeled Vehicles (HMMWVs). The most current version, designed to carry removable armor.
* 200 BGM-71E-4B-RF (TOW-2A) Radio Frequency (RF) missiles.
* 7 Fly-to-Buy RF TOW-2A Missiles, used for testing.
* 50 BGM-71H-1RF TOW-2A Bunker Buster Missiles.
* 7 Fly-to-Buy TOW-2A RF Bunker Buster Missiles.
* 40 BGM-71F-3-RF TOW-2B Aero Missiles, with no nose spike, longer range, and warheads designed for top-attack profiles.
* 7 Fly-to-Buy RF TOW-2B Aero Missiles.
* 48 TOW-2 Launchers, AN/UAS-12A Night Sight Sets.
* Plus spare and repair parts, support and test equipment, publications and technical documentation, personnel training and training equipment, and other forms of U.S. Government and contractor support.
* Raytheon – TOW Weapon System.
* Global Security – Bahrain Army
* Janes – Armed forces (Bahrain)
* US Library of Congress – Bahrain. By the Federal Research Division, as part of the Country Studies/Area Handbook Series sponsored by the U.S. Department of the Army between 1986 – 1998.