GCC - Iran: Operational Analysis of Air, SAM and TBM Forces

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton recently stated that the U.S. will not allow the Gulf Region to be dominated by a hegemonic Iran, and that an Iran in possession of nuclear weapons is unacceptable. If Iran continues to pursue a nuclear weapon program then the U.S. will likely arm its allies in the region,  extending a defense umbrella over the Gulf. The aim will be to deter Iran from intimidating and dominating its neighboring countries, in particular the GCC, once it possesses nuclear weapons.

Iran sees itself as having a leadership role in the Arab and non-Arab Muslim world, and as having a dominant role in the Gulf region, especially in any GCC security arrangements. In addition to viewing itself as a regional power, Iran’s aim is to keep the area free from any foreign military presence and to prevent outside countries - namely the U.S., France and Britain - from playing a role in shaping the future political and security architecture of the Gulf region.

Iran has been trying to convince the GCC countries that their security will be better ensured by signing mutual security agreements with Iran. It has also been attempting to persuade them to rely on Iran in the event of a crisis, rather than relying on foreign military intervention.

Iran’s ballistic missiles cover the complete spectrum range from 150k to over 5,500km - short, medium and intermediate ranges. Iran believes that these will compensate for any deficiencies in its Air Power. Iran has declared its arsenal of Ballistic Missiles to be for defensive purposes against any foreign invasion, in particular against the U.S. However, it has become very clear that it is an arsenal that is intended to inflict maximum casualties and damage in any regional conflict – in essence a valuable tool for Asymmetric Warfare in the form of high attrition and defenses in depth.

Israel also views Iran as a threat, but an “existential” one, and states that it must be dealt with in the immediate future with a military strike against its main nuclear facilities. However, the Obama administration’s policy has been to leave all options on the table, with diplomacy favored above any military strikes. Containment could be the future course of U.S. Policy if diplomatic engagement does not work, and after all other options have been exhausted.

The Gulf States have been investing in the modernization of their force structures, with the U.S., France and Britain acting as the major weapons suppliers. Recognizing that the assistance of outside powers is required to deal with any military aggression in the Gulf region, the GCC states have also have signed bilateral defense agreements with their Western allies – the U.S., France and Britain.

The two main considerations underlying the choice of military doctrine by the GCC states are balance of forces and strategic depth. Strategic depth will put constraints on operational maneuverability, time to respond, and an increase in the vulnerability of vital strategic economic centers due to the proximity of the borders.

The GCC must structure its defenses to deter Iran or any other possible aggressor. They must build their collective and national assets to provide a military deterrent sufficient to make any direct confrontation as costly as possible. When transformed into an operational doctrine, the GCC would base their Force Structure planning on two main concepts: defensible borders, which can be defended without a pre-emptive initiative; and the capability to take the war to the enemy over enemy territory. This would require that the GCC is to maintain a technological and qualitative edge, mobility and strength of its Air Power.

This study addresses and compares the balance of forces and the operational fighting capabilities of the air power, SAM Defense and TBM forces of the GCC and Iran. In Part I, the report analyses conventional war fighting capability. 

In Part I, the U.S. Air Force Doctrine, which defines and outlines the functions required to achieve strategic, operational and tactical-level objectives, is used as a guide for the analysis. For each function, the report displays the operational missions required and then compares the availability and effectiveness of the military resources of the GCC and Iran.

The study shows  the weakness of the Iranian Air and SAM Power versus the GCC countries over a seven-day conflict. The study demonstrates that there is a substantial advantage in favor of the GCC states in all missions studied. To maintain this, the GCC must further modernize its conventional capability, keeping or even increasing its technological and qualitative edge over the Iranian forces.

Part II addresses the asymmetric warfare capabilities that Iran has been developing. There will be a need for the GCC to develop an asymmetric military capability, an area where Iran currently leads.

In the area of Theater Ballistic Missiles, GCC states clearly have a disadvantage. The challenge for the GCC states is to design an effective multi-layered Ballistic Missile Defense System (BMDS) to counter the full range of ballistic missiles. Due to the very short time window in the defense against ballistic missiles, they will have to be engaged automatically, which requires that intercept authorization and rules of engagement be worked out in advance. This is all part of an effective C4I ISR / BM system in both peace time and war.