The 21st century has seen a quiet transformation of the UAE’s armed forces. Advanced AWACS airborne early warning planes and air and missile defense systems are just the outward signs of a push from a collection of purchased weapon systems, to an integrated defense force that can cope with the most modern threats.
Making that happen requires more than just planes, or missiles. It requires extensive back-end systems that help turn information from advanced radars and airborne surveillance into a coherent whole, and allow command staff to direct battles based on that information. DID explains the larger picture and where things stand now, as the UAE continues its strong Command, Control, Computing, & Communications (C4) push.
The UAE’s Military Quest for Coherence
Understanding the UAE
The United Arab Emirates really is. After the British Royal Navy beat down activity along the “Pirate Coast” in the early 1800s, the “Trucial Sheikhdoms” signed a perpetual maritime truce in 1853. In the 1970s, the British withdrew their protection established by an 1892 treaty, and planned to form a single state that would have included Bahrain, Qatar and the “Trucial Coast.” When that foundered, Bahrain and Qatar negotiated independence and the other 7 sheikhdoms/ emirates formed the UAE.
Stable, British-allied Oman is the UAE’s nearest neighbor. Saudi Arabia also shares a major land border, but key connecting roads transit through Kuwait, and the desert geography on their border makes attack difficult even in a worst case scenario. The most likely threats to the UAE, therefore, are by air or sea – and aerial surveillance is also critical to overwatch of its port infrastructure and of the Persian Gulf.
Dubai is the best known emirate, as it has become the ultra-modern trading hub of the Arab Middle East. The others are Abu Dhabi, Ajman, Fujairah, Sharjah, Ras-Al-Kaimah, and Umm Al Qaiwain. Each emirate reserves considerable powers, including control over mineral, oil and gas rights and revenues.
Integration Issues: Human
These distinctions show within its military. Almost all of the UAE’s combat air fleet is based out of Abu Dhabi, for instance, while Dubai hosts the core of its transport fleet. Note that the air force is generally seen as integrated, and some of its aircraft are under arrangements that station them in other emirates.
The second human integration challenge involves a different set of distinctions, between UAE nationals and foreigners. An article from the Scramble magazine adds that “the defense forces of the UAE have always been multi-cultural and they rely heavily on troop forces from other Arab countries and Pakistan.” Officers, however, are almost all UAE nationals.
The 3rd human integration challenge involves local support. The UAE is known within its region and beyond as a smart buyer, but some analysts like Anthony Cordesman have commented that the country sometimes has trouble digesting and consistently operating its defense acquisitions.
Recent years have seen a strong push to change that, including industrial offset programs that are fostering local firms with shipbuilding, weapons manufacturing, and IT expertise. This industrial policy looks beyond the UAE, and is working to make the country a hub for defense marketing and maintenance throughout the Arabian Gulf.
Integration Issues: Technical
Once the UAE successfully tackles these human integration issues, the next item on the priority list must be integrating its varied and advanced equipment into a single military force. If command relationships are clear, then communications systems at the micro level, and a common battle picture at the macro level, can go a long way toward achieving this goal. In 2007, Lt. Col. Don Finley, commander of the 705th Training Squadron at Hurlburt Field, FL, said that:
“We think they’re trying to be the leader of the GCC [DID: Gulf Cooperation Council: Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, UAE] in command and control of air power.”
Given the UAE’s array of advanced equipment and defensive needs, that isn’t surprising. They need to integrate a combat air force with uniquely advanced Mirage 2000-9s and F-16 E/F Block 60s, all connected to surveillance assets like their S340-AEW airborne early warning and control planes, Dash-8 maritime patrol planes, and now Predator XP drones. On land, the UAE is also adding THAAD and PATRIOT PAC-3 systems that offer long range air defense and missile defense capabilities. At lower tiers, early-version Croatale and Rapier systems are being supplemented by Russian Pantsyr S1 air defense systems, and may eventually find themselves replaced. Swedish RBS-70 man-portable systems operate at the lowest end, but their dispersed and hard to detect nature can make them dangerous if they’re part of an integrated whole.
UAE naval forces also have a role to play, thanks to advanced corvettes like the new Baynunah Class, and their extensive communications capabilities. Protecting the Gulf is a major strategic goal, but doing that well requires the ability to see traffic and respond quickly to changes.
Other Gulf Cooperation Council countries are also investing in command and control systems, but so far, the GCC’s preferred approach has involved individual nations buying modernized assets, rather than steps toward a truly regional system.
The response: ECCS and DIAMONDShield
These realizations dawned on the UAE in time. A January 2006 Jane’s overview suggested that the UAE had shelved plans for E-2 AWACS aircraft in favor of unspecified improvements in “airborne command, surveillance and intelligence-gathering.”
Step 1 was human. Since April 2007, a US Air Force-led team has been training UAE airmen in air and space control systems and procedures, with about 200 students enrolled in intermediate and advanced-level classes and simulations, working in a mini air and space operations center (AOC) built by the UAE. When classes conclude in December 2007, the top 20 or so students with the best English speaking skills will go through instructor training. All this was part of the UAE’s $7 billion F-16 E/F Block 60 purchase, and it was undertaken in a separate facility because the US does not have an AOC classified access agreement with the United Arab Emirates.
Step 2 was the United Arab Emirates Command and Control System (ECCS), whose initial contract was signed in February 2011 with the Emiraje Systems LLC joint venture. It’s an overarching strategic C4ISR (Command, Control, Communications, Computers, Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance) I.T. framework that will integrate, coordinate, and federate existing systems. Phase 1 alone was worth over $500 million.
ECCS is important, but a rising Iranian threat had forced the UAE to confront issues of missile defense. A December 2008 order for PATRIOT PAC-3 systems could provide point defense, and a December 2011 contract for longer-range THAAD systems intensified the need for a battle command system that could sit beneath ECCS, with the ability to control tactical assets.
Step 3 was announced publicly in February 2013: Lockheed Martin’s internally-developed DIAMONDShield tactical battle command system. This web-based system uses a map interface for command and control, overlaid with weapon and sensor data like UAV videos, datalink feeds, radar tracks from ground radars and AWACS, etc. Planning tools are included for airspace deconfliction, ISR missions, and battle plans, and the system is designed to tie into existing systems for execution and monitoring. A radar track and firing request could be sent to a THAAD launcher, for instance, using encrypted datalinks. If the missile intercept failed, the same sequence could take place with a PATRIOT PAC-3 launcher, which had already been cued via a previous message.
The UAE could become the 1st customer for DIAMONDShield, a position they’ve been in several times before with other military platforms. Lockheed Martin invested company funds to create the system, drawing on its experience with the USAF’s Theater Battle Management System (TBMCS), Integrated Space Command & Control (ISC2) system, the US Missile Defense Agency’s C2BMC, and others. Architects were taken from existing programs and asked: “If you were going to redo this, what would you do? What would you add?” Others were asked about lessons from using these systems, and the way the battlefield works when decisions need to be made in minutes or less.
This extensive up-front architecting helped conserve company funds, since changes get much more expensive once a coded framework exists. Lockheed personnel also say that it helped them to create a system that met a key emerging need. Exercises like NATO’s “Ensemble Test” series are driving home the need to connect with a very broad array of radars and firing platforms. DIAMONDShield’s uses a virtualized architecture that remains hardware-agnostic and can interchange databases, plus open interfaces that comply with a number of existing industry and military standards. The system incorporates radar interfaces and an array of tactical datalinks, plus SDKs to write adapters as needed.
The DIAMONDShield team is working with other teams within Lockheed Martin, and with outside vendors, in order to broaden pre-existing product integration within the system. DIAMONDShield is primarily an air and missile defense system, but team members have expressed the view that the core framework is flexible enough to be expanded into other functions, including domestic security and infrastructure protection, disaster response, etc. That could be attractive to a country like the UAE, but those kinds of uses would involve an additional development cycle. For now, the country’s focus is more narrow, and the first avenue for expansion is likely to look beyond the UAE itself.
Within the GCC, there’s a lot of activity around air and missile defense. Qatar has submitted a request for THAAD systems. Kuwait is upgrading its PATRIOT systems, and buying new ones. So is Saudi Arabia. Bahrain has a long-range air defense radar. The USA has its own systems within the region. DIAMONDShield offers the prospect of extending some of the UAE’s communications and coordination links at a reasonable cost, and turning the country’s investments into a linchpin for the region as a whole. Discussions with Lockheed personnel revealed a consensus that most of the effort involved in those kinds of projects is policy-related, tied to the creation and approval of a granular map detailing exactly what will be shared and how. The programming isn’t effort-free, but it’s secondary within the overall project.
In a similar vein, once such systems are deployed, their center isn’t technological. It’s the human side of trained operations and support personnel that can support allied militaries. Fortunately, the UAE has already made the necessary investments.
Contracts & Key Events
Some non-C2 events like missile defense buys have been added to the timeline, in order to place events in context.
May 22/14: Interoperability. INEGMA’s Sabahat Khan writes:
“The bottom-line, simply, is that the U.S. – as a partner with the tremendous resources, capabilities, and technical expertise available at its disposal – has so far not assured the level of operational capability, interoperability and joint readiness required in the Arabian Gulf…. Moreover, the longstanding reluctance of the United States to remove the technology and technical restrictions imposed upon GCC militaries that would enable them to implement operational integration between themselves continues to stoke frustration and even occasional suspicion. That reluctance suggests a possibility that the U.S. itself has serious reservations about enabling GCC militaries with the capabilities to undertake combined operations because that would displace the current hub-and-spoke architecture with the U.S. at the center with another network, which is more effective and also potentially less critically dependent on deployed U.S. assets and networks….”
Sources: Eurasia Review, “The Future Of US-GCC Security Cooperation And Regional Security In Arabian Gulf – Analysis”.
Feb 19/13: DIAMOND Shield. Local media report that Lockheed Martin beat ThalesRaytheon in a competition to build the UAE’s “Extended Air Defence Ground Environment-Transformation” tactical command and control system for ballistic missile defense. Technically, the firm says that they won the down-select in July 2012, and they’re in final negotiations as the preferred bidder. Lockheed Martin makes the UAE’s THAAD and PAC-3 missiles, and they also built the country’s F-16E/F fighters.
Negotiations will center around the firm’s “DIAMONDShield” offering, which builds on the firm’s experience with the USAF’s TBCMS and ISC2 systems, and the US Missile Defense Agency’s C2BMC. Briefly, DIAMONDShield uses a map interface for command and control, overlaid with weapon and sensor data like UAV videos, datalink feeds, radar tracks, etc. Planning tools are included for airspace deconfliction, ISR missions, and battle plans, and the system is designed to tie into existing systems for execution and monitoring. Lockheed Martin ISGS VP Cliff Spier is quoted as saying that:
“The system is for advanced battle-space monitoring….. It integrates ground and air defences, selects the right weapons and…. offers the operator engagement tracking at the click of a button, so that his instructions are communicated direct by data link to a launcher…. A country needs its own air defence network. But Diamond Shield allows you to share your defence coverage with your neighbours and allies. What you are looking at, they can look at. It enables old systems and new systems to be integrated. Diamond Shield is an enabler for GCC integration.”
Note that integration and sharing aren’t simple, and usually require an investment of time and money. DIAMONDShield could become a base for GCC integration, but its mere presence won’t create it. What it does offer, is a service-oriented IT architecture that could work with others’ systems. UAE’s The National.
Dec 30/11: UAE THAAD. A series of contracts kick off the UAE’s Terminal Hight Altitude Air Defense system deal, which is estimated at $3.48 billion. It’s the 1st export sale for the THAAD system, which was developed as a longer-range counterpart to the PATRIOT. In November 2012, the UAE made a follow-on DSCA request to buy more THAAD equipment and missiles. Read “Gulf States Requesting ABM-Capable Systems” for full coverage.
Sept 22/11: Link-16 request. The US DSCA announces [PDF] the United Arab Emirates’ official request to buy 107 MIDS-LVT/ LINK 16 terminals and associated equipment, parts, training and support. The compact MIDS-LVT assemblies would be installed on its F-16E/F fleet, as well as ground command and control sites, giving its air force a Link-16 network that would help UAE fighters and S340-AEW aircraft share what they see with each other and with related forces like American and Saudi AWACS aircraft, similarly-equipped allied fighters, etc.
If a contract is negotiated, it would include the systems, engineering/ integration services, aircraft modification and installation, testing, spare and repair parts, support equipment, repair and return support, personnel training, interface with ground command and control centers and ground repeater sites, and other related elements of program support. The estimated cost is up to $401 million.
The prime contractor is not set; this will be a competition between Data Link Solutions and ViaSat. Implementation of this proposed sale will require the assignment of additional U.S. Government and contractor representatives to the UAE, which will be negotiated if a contract is signed and the program proceeds.
Feb 28/11: ECCS. The UAE hands its United Arab Emirates Command and Control System (ECCS) contract to Emiraje Systems LLC, a joint venture of EADS Cassidian & Emirates Advanced Investments group’s C4 Advanced Solutions. The ECCS system will become the UAE’s overarching Command, Control, Communications, Computers, Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (C4ISR) framework, federating, integrating, and coordinating existing systems. Phase 1 alone is worth AED 2.02 billion ($550 million/ EUR 400 million).
This will also be a major boost to Emiraje Systems, which was set up in 2009 with the aim of building an advanced integration capability within the UAE. Staff Brigadier Pilot Faris Khalaf Al Mazrouei, Head of the ECCS Project Committee referred to this when he said that: “…we are proud to protect the future security of the UAE citizens, not only through the ECCS Program, but beyond that through establishing a solid and recognized Defence integrator company in the UAE.” EADS Cassidian | Jane’s.
ECCS national C2, Phase 1
Feb 23/11: Network upgrade. C4 Advanced Solutions receives an AED 887.7 million ($242.3 million, EUR 175.5 million) contract to upgrade the UAE military’s networks, and provide technical assistance. Jane’s.
June 16/10: Cybersecurity. EADS Defence & Security (DS), Emiraje Systems LLC (a partnership between C4 Advanced Solutions LLC and EADS Defence & Security SAS), and the UAE’s Khalifa University of Science, Technology & Research (KUSTAR) have signed a MoU for a collaboration program in Cyber Operations, which intends to become a resource for the Gulf Cooperation Council as a whole.
Among the various initiatives, a joint EADS/ KUSTAR Centre of Excellence will be created in the field of Cyber Operations, with particular emphasis on the protection of Critical National Infrastructure and Critical Information Infrastructure. Emiraje Systems LLC will facilitate the development of the Cyber Operations Centre of Excellence. EADS.
Jan 14/09: UAE thinking. The Khaleej Times quotes General (Ret.) Khaled Abdulla Al Bu-Ainnain, the former commander of the UAE air force and now President of The Institute for Near East and Gulf Military Analysis (INEGMA) defense think tank:
“This in no way means that all these countries [in the emerging nuclear arc] are hostile to the UAE. But we cannot be blind to the risks and threats involved in these countries arming with nuclear capabilities. We may even become victims of cross-fires between different countries. Suppose Israel or the US attacks Iran, we could be caught in between. Our rulers have been acutely sensitive to these realities and are in the process building up a robust air defence system for the Emirates… It is the ‘system of systems’ involving early detection, separation, elimination and the complete command control… We had the potential to buy these missiles ten years ago. But we wanted to develop the human resources from within the UAE so that our people will be put in command. We want to defend the country through our own people, and not through outsiders.”
This would also help to explain the developments reported in “Gulf States Requesting ABM-Capable Systems.” The Khaleej Times report adds:
“Meanwhile, Federal National Council Member Ahmed Shabib Al Dhahiri told Khaleej Times on Tuesday that an estimated $100 million budget has been earmarked for UAE Nuclear Authority, which will implement the country’s peaceful nuclear programme.”
As the Times reported, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Algeria, and Morocco all confirmed their intent to begin nuclear power programs to the IAEA in 2006; the UAE and Tunisia were listed as possible additions. This announcement would appear to make the UAE program a certainty, adding further importance to strong C2 and surveillance capabilities.
Nov 17/09: AWACS. Instead of buying E-2C Hawkeyes, the UAE places a $220 million contract for 2 of Saab’s S340 Erieye airborne early warning planes, as an interim AWACS capability. An official statement hints at more orders to come. Read “UAE Buys Saab’s Erieye AEW&C Aircraft” for full coverage.
Dec 17/08: UAE PATRIOT. Raytheon receives a not-to-exceed $3.3 billion order from the United Arab Emirates for Patriot Config-3 systems, including Patriot GEM-T and Lockheed PAC-3 missiles, whole life support, and training. The UAE is a new PATRIOT customer, and had relied on Improved Hawk missiles in this role. See full coverage in “Gulf States Requesting ABM-Capable Systems.”
Dec 4/07: E-2C Request. The UAE downgrades its request to 3 used Hawkeyes [PDF], not delivered to Hawkeye 2000 standard but with upgrades and refurbishments that include E-2C Group II Navigation Upgrade configuration, and 8 improved T56-A-427 Turbo Shaft engines to extend its range and cruise time vs. the standard T56-A-425s. The estimated cost is $437 million, and Northrop Grumman Aircraft Corporation of Bethpage, NY will be the prime contractor.
The UAE would also be contracting for Phased Maintenance Inspection, spare parts and repairs, support equipment, personnel training and training equipment, technical data and publications, tactical software and software laboratory, system software development and installation, testing of new system modifications, technical and logistics personnel services, and other related support elements. Implementation of this proposed sale will not require the assignment of any additional U.S. Government and contractor representatives to the United Arab Emirates. The purchaser also requested industrial offsets, which will be defined in negotiations between the purchaser and contractor. The DSCA adds that:
“The United Arab Emirates needs the E-2C aircraft to develop an effective air defense network for its naval forces and to provide an Airborne Early Warning (AEW) surveillance and enhanced command, control, and communications capability.”
As of 2013, the UAE hasn’t bought any Hawkeyes. The more advanced E-2D is a contender for their follow-on AWACS purchase, against Saab’s S340-AEW and Boeing’s E-737.
April 2007: AOC Training. A US Air Force-led team begins training UAE airmen in air and space control systems and procedures, with about 200 students enrolled in intermediate and advanced-level classes and simulations, working in a mini air and space operations center (AOC) built by the UAE. USAF.
Sept 4/02: E-2C 2000 request. The US DSCA announces [PDF] the United Arab Emirates’ official request for The Government of the United Arab Emirates requested a possible sale of 5 refurbished/upgraded E-2C aircraft to the E-2C HAWKEYE 2000 standard including 5 AN/APS-145 radars, 5 OE-335/A antenna groups, 10 T56-A-425 engines, spare and repairs parts, support equipment, personnel training and training equipment, technical data and publications, tactical software and software laboratory, system software development and installation, testing of new system modifications, U.S. Government and contractor engineering and logistics services and other related elements of program support. The estimated cost is $400 million.
fn1. The real AOC at Hurlburt Field, which is located near Pensacola, FL, supports US Special Operations Command. At nearby Tyndall AFB next to Panama City, the 601st Air and Space Operations Center at Tyndall AFB belongs to the 1st Air Force. It provides air security and air sovereignty defense for the continental United States, planning, directing and assessing air and space operations for NORAD and the United States Northern Command. Source.
DID thanks Lockheed Martin’s C2 Systems Program Manager Michael Donovan, System Architect Kurt Heddleston, and Systems Engineer Jerry Crowell for their time and expertise.
* US Department of State – Background Note: United Arab Emirates
* Scramble – United Arab Emirates Air Force
* Anthony Cordesman – The Military Balance in the Middle East (Google book preview)
* Air University Library, Maxwell AFB, AL – Air Operations Centers. Bibliography and links last updated April 2005.
* DID Spotlight – Gulf States Requesting ABM-Capable Systems. The UAE in particular is modernizing its air defenses from the bottom all the way up to the top, with multi-billion dollar orders in progress.
* DID – UAE Buys Saab’s Erieye AEW&C Aircraft. Ordered in 2009.
* DID – UAE adds Dash-8 Q300s for Maritime Patrol. Ordered in 2009, they’ll be the world’s most advanced Q300 MPAs.
* DID – The UAE’s F-16 Block 60 Desert Falcon Fleet. They fly the world’s most advanced F-16s, whose sensor suite makes them capable surveillance aircraft in their own right.
* DID – The Wonders of Link 16 For Less: MIDS-LVTs. Explains what Link-16 is, and why it matters. A national system for the UAE would be a big deal.
* Inside the Air Force, via Hanscom AFB Integrator (2007) – Air Force training United Arab Emirates Airmen to operate AOC
* DID FOCUS Article – E-2D Hawkeye: The Navy’s New AWACS. Also outlines the various upgrade sets and changes from E-2C to E-2D. Where the UAE variants end up will make a significant difference to their capabilities.
* US Navy Fact File – E-2 Hawkeye early warning and control aircraft
* Eurasia Review (May 22/14) – The Future Of US-GCC Security Cooperation And Regional Security In Arabian Gulf – Analysis.
* DID (Nov 28/12) – Saudi Arabia Orders $600M+ National Command System. About 5 years behind the UAE. Also looks at the potential of regional C4I systems.
* DID (May 19/08) – GCC C3 Market Projected at $9b from 2008-2015
* Northrop Grumman (Dubai Air Show 2007) – Northrop Grumman and the UAE: Meeting the Challenges of Modern Time