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Checkmate On Iran
by James Dunnigan
September 27, 2008

Discussion Board on this DLS topic

The UAE (United Arab Emirates) wants to buy $7 billion worth of American THAAD (Terminal High Altitude Area Defense) anti-missile systems to protect itself against the growing arsenal of Iranian ballistic missiles. The UAE is a confederation of small Arab states at the southern end of the Persian Gulf. With a population of only 5.5 million, and large oil and gas deposits, the emirates have a per-capita income of $43,000. Thus the UAE has a lot to defend, and an increasingly belligerent neighbor just across the Gulf. The UAE controls one side the entrance to the Gulf (the Straits of Hormuz). Iran is on the other end, and both nations dispute ownership of some islands in the middle.

The U.S. has agreed to the sale, even though the U.S. Army just formed the first of four THAD anti-ballistic missile (ABM) batteries earlier this year. This unit will be ready for combat in two years, using the THAAD missile. The other three batteries will be in service within five years. Twenty months ago, there was a successful test of THAAD (a SCUD type target was destroyed in flight) using a crew of soldiers for the first time, and not manufacturer technicians, to operate the system.

Each THAAD battery will have 24 missiles, three launchers and a fire control communications system. This will include an X-Band radar. The gear for each battery will cost $310 million. The 18 foot long THAAD missiles weigh 1,400 pounds. This is about the same size as the Patriot anti-aircraft missile, but twice the weight of the anti-missile version of the Patriot. The range of THAAD is 200 kilometers, max altitude is 150 kilometers, and it is intended for short (like SCUD) or medium range (up to 2,000 kilometer) range ballistic missiles. This is what Iran has a lot of.

THAAD has been in development for two decades. Ultimately, the army would like to buy at least 18 launchers, 1,400 missiles, and 18 radars. The UAE appears to be buying more than that; at least a dozen batteries, which is enough to cover the entire southern end of the Persian Gulf against whatever the Iranians can throw at them. However, it will be at least five years before any of the UAE has any of these THAADs deployed. With an order that size, perhaps the U.S. will throw in some temporary protection via U.S. Navy warships equipped with Aegis anti-missile missiles.

THAAD is a step up from the Patriot PAC-3 anti-missile (which is an anti-aircraft missile adapted to take out incoming missiles). The PAC-3 works, but it has limited (20 kilometers) range. The navy has also modified its Standard anti-aircraft missile system to operate like the PAC-3. This system, the RIM-161A, also known as the Standard Missile 3 (or SM-3), has a longer range than THAAD (over 500 kilometers) and max altitude of 160 kilometers. missiles. The Standard 3 is based on the failed anti-missile version of the Standard 2, and costs over three million dollars each. The Standard 3 has four stages. The first two stages boost the interceptor out of the atmosphere. The third stage fires twice to boost the interceptor farther beyond the earth's atmosphere. Prior to each motor firing it takes a GPS reading to correct course for approaching the target. The fourth stage is the 20 pound LEAP kill vehicle, which uses infrared sensors to close on the target and ram it.

The UAE has already bought Patriot anti-missile and anti-aircraft missile systems, as well as dozens of new fighter interceptors, and tens of billions of dollars of new gear for their army and navy. The UAE armed forces has 60,000 troops, and they are armed to the teeth.

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