WASHINGTON — The Pentagon remained silent Wednesday about the makeup of the promised deployment to the Middle East, as analysts continued to question how effective today’s defenses are against swarms of small drones and short-range missiles.
The threat is not only from Iran against oil facilities in Saudi Arabia; it also has increased in Europe, where NATO nations are vulnerable to similar attacks from Russia, officials said Wednesday.
Pentagon officials told TMN on Wednesday that they expect some finalization of the reinforcements for Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates to be ready by Thursday. Previously they have said around 500 personnel will be deployed, along with unspecified equipment.
A Sept. 14 attack against the Saudi oil facilities hit 17 different targets at a well-defended facility. The attack overwhelmed the Saudis’ ability to defend its assets, Pentagon officials said.
After the attack, Russian President Vladimir Putin mocked the inability of the U.S.-made air defense systems to stop the drones and missiles, and suggested Saudi Arabia purchase the Russian-made S-300 or S-400 missile defense system instead.
“You know, no single system is going to be able to defend against a threat like that, but a layered system of defensive capabilities would mitigate the risk of swarms of drones or other attacks that may come from Iran,” Gen. Joseph Dunford, chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told Pentagon reporters Friday.
That reality was underscored this week by John Rood, under secretary of defense for policy, who said the threat faced by the U.S., NATO and other allies from nations with drone and missile capability has developed faster than protective countermeasures.
“We’re seeing asymmetric investments in things like swarming UAS (Unmanned Aircraft System) technology, like unmanned aerial systems that really fly more like the cruise missiles,” Rood said at a Center for European Policy Analysis event in Washington. “It’s a serious problem. 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.”
The threat of missile swarm attack is not new. For example, it has long been a concern of Pentagon officials that China will have — or already has — the capacity to take out U.S. air and naval bases that are vulnerable to swarms of precision-guided weapons in a limited, regional war.