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NATO’s Not Ready For Saudi-Style Drone Attacks; (and neither are our ports)

“The threat that we face has developed faster,” than countermeasures, giving adversaries like Russia, and Iran, some asymmetric advantages. Saudi couldn’t protect itself from the drone attack. How would American ports and terminals fair in a similar attack? Poorly is our guess.

BreakingDefense, September 23, 2019

Editor’s Note: Breaking Defense’s Paul McLeary ran an excellent piece yesterday about NATO’s readiness to confront a drone attack similar to the one Saudi Arabia was hit by on September 15th. His analysis is on-point, detailed and sobering. You can read his article below or by clicking here.

WASHINGTON: A senior Pentagon official said today that NATO isn’t prepared to fend off attacks by swarms of small drones and short-range missiles, like those that struck Saudi Arabia’s oil facilities.

“We’re seeing asymmetric investments in things like swarming UAS technology, like unmanned aerial systems that really fly more like the cruise missiles,” John Rood, under secretary of defense for policy said. “It’s a serious problem.” Rood didn’t specifically mention the Saudi attacks, but the parallels are clear. He pointed to the type of assaults Russia launched in Ukraine, and Iran in Saudi Arabia earlier this month.

Speaking at a Center for European Policy Analysis event in Washington, Rood said the threats from such weapons and tactics have developed faster than NATO’s ability to rework missile defense and radar systems to detect smaller, faster-moving objects. 

“As part of our investment priorities we have to shift as an alliance where we’re putting our level of effort if you will, to put a little more emphasis in that area.”

Rood offered no specifics, but called out the Russian use of drones as forward artillery spotters in Ukraine as a real warning of an emerging way of war. “That’s the changing the situation we face. And clever adversaries like the Russians are applying that in new ways. If we went to school on what the Russians applied in places like Ukraine, I think that would be a real challenge for NATO to deal with on the battlefield, so that’s what we’re talking about within the NATO alliance. We need to do much better.”

The Russian tactics in Ukraine are well known at this point, but the threat posed by relatively cheap drones and cruise missiles launched by countries — and their proxies — far below the level of “great power competition” was tossed into the open earlier this month when the the Abqaiq oil facility in Saudi Arabia was peppered with dozens of missiles and drones, shutting the massive complex down.

The attack, which hit 17 different targets at a well-defended facility critical to the Saudi oil industry, shocked the globe and prompted the Trump administration to send hundreds of troops and more air defense equipment to the Kingdom, which has already purchased hundreds of billions of advanced US military kit over the years.

Abqaiq, a well-known target of Iranian-backed Houthi rebels, was protected by several Shahine short-range missile systems and at least one US-made Patriot missile system, but the expensive radars and missiles did little to stop the onslaught. The Houthis claimed credit for the attack, though the Trump administration has laid the blame directly on Tehran.

The Kremlin had a good laugh at the inability of the US-made air defense systems to stop the attack on Saudi Arabia, with Russian President Valdimir Putin suggesting Saudi buy the Russian-made S-300 or S-400 missile defense system instead. (NATO ally Turkey was recently expelled from the F-35 program precisely for buying the S-400 missile system.)

Read Breaking Defense’s full article by clicking here.

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