Emirates, Bahrain seek U.S. rocket systems

Nov. 29, 2010 at 2:26 PM
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ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates, Nov. 29 (UPI) -- As concerns about Iran's military power among Arab states in the Persian Gulf mount, the United Arab Emirates and tiny Bahrain are acquiring U.S.-built long-range artillery rocket systems amid a major arms buildup to counter the Islamic Republic.

The two states on the western shore of the gulf, both major regional financial centers, are in the process of amassing 130 MGM-140 Army Tactical Missile Systems, or ATACMS, which are GPS-guided rockets with a range of more than 100 miles.

They already possess the M270 Multiple Launch Rocket Systems, or MLRS which are used to fire the solid-fuel ATACMS, some 500 of which were launched by U.S. forces during the 1990-91 Gulf War and the March 2003 invasion of Iraq.

The 610mm ATACMS' primary task is to destroy surface-to-surface missiles sites, air-defense clusters and command-and-control centers.

While Iran is seen as the likely target of the ATACMS if hostilities erupt, only parts of the Islamic Republic would be within range from the emirates or Bahrain.

So it is more likely, analysts say, that the rockets are intended to counter any amphibious Iranian force that lands on the western shore of the strategic waterway, through which one-fifth of the world's oil supplies pass every day.

The ATACMS, like the M270 built by Lockheed Martin's missile and fire control division. The emirates are looking to buy 100 of them, Bahrain seeks 30 for its MLRS.

The ATACMS fits the same size container that normally holds six 227mm MLRS rockets. They carry 500-pound high explosive warheads and cost about $1 million apiece.

The emirates, a federation of seven desert sheikdoms known as the Trucial States until Britain carried out its East of Suez military withdrawal in the 1970s, have become the second ranking Arab military power in the gulf after Saudi Arabia.

Lockheed is expected to deliver the 100 ATACMS to the emirates in the coming months, along with 60 Low Cost reduced range practice rockets under a $140 million contract.

The Pentagon plans to sell the United Arab Emirates 60 Boeing AH-64D Apache strike helicopters worth $5 billion, even as Washington turns up the heat on the gulf state to sever its longtime trade ties with Iran.

The emirates' trade with Iran was estimated at $12 billion in 2009, but that's expected to nosedive this year as banks withdraw credit lines under harsh U.N. sanctions imposed in June over Tehran's nuclear program.

The proposed sale is part of a massive arms package for the Arab states of the Gulf valued at $122 billion over the next decade -- including arms worth $65 billion to the Saudis alone.

"The volume of arms purchases by the United Arab Emirates has increased significantly over the past 10 years and is likely to remain a major arms buyer in the coming years," said the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, which monitors global arms sales.

The emirates are also expected to take delivery of four Patriot MIM-104 PAC-3 air-defense missile batteries built by Raytheon, 60 Sikorsky UH-60M Black Hawk armed transport helicopters and 12 Lockheed Martin C-130J-30 and six Boeing C-17 Globemaster transport aircraft.

France will be providing three A-330 MRTT tanker/transport aircraft built by Airbus Industries and six Baynunah-class corvettes designed by France's Constructions Mecaniques de Normandie.

Russia is due to deliver up to 50 Pantsyr S1 short-range air-defense missile systems, with Italy providing two Falaj-2 naval corvettes and one Abu Dhabi-class frigate.

The U.S. Congress has also cleared the emirates to get three Terminal High Altitude Area Defense anti-ballistic missiles systems built by Lockheed Martin Space Systems, a deal worth up to $7 billion.

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