All you need to know about the UAE’s missile defense and Houthi attack propaganda

Awad Mustafa
Awad Mustafa
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The Houthi militia’s claim of targeting of the United Arab Emirates’ Barakah nuclear power plant represents a major shift in the militant group’s propaganda in the Yemen war.

The statement issued on Sunday claimed that a ‘winged’ cruise missile targeted the power plant located 600 kilometers south of Abu Dhabi.

While the Houthi militia utilizes Iranian weapons, the fact is that since 2015 cruise missiles have only been used in anti-ship operations near the strait of Bab el-Mandeb.

Of all Gulf nations, the UAE stands with one of the world’s most advanced missile defense systems that has been in development since the turn of the century.


Experts speaking to Al Arabiya English agreed that the UAE, which presents a valuable target for state and non-state actors, has shored up its air defense against multiple threats ranging from ballistic missiles to unmanned aerial vehicles.

Former UAE air force and air defense commander (retired) Major General Khaled Abdullah Al Bu Ainnain, earlier said at a missile defense conference that the UAE is thoroughly equipped to defend itself from short and long-range missiles threats.

The UAE defends itself in what experts call a three-tier system created to defend against low, medium and high altitude threats.

“Three tier air defense systems are often made up of low level subsonic defense against cruise missiles and manned or unmanned aircraft approaching at low altitudes,” said Matthew Hedges, researcher at Durham University and Advisor to Washington based think tank, Gulf States Analytics.


“The second tier is for medium to high level missile threats that defends against tactical ballistic missiles and aircraft and finally high altitude threats defend against exoatmospheric engagements from intercontinental ballistic missiles,” Hedges said.

According to Anthony Cordesman, the Arleigh A. Burke Chair in Strategy at Center for Strategic and International Studies, the UAE posseses the Russian Pantsir-S1 system, which was designed with an all-weather system that is capable of tracking and engaging aircraft, helicopters and UAVs.

For medium to high altitude threats, the UAE operates nine PATRIOT system batteries distributed alongside major population centers and critical infrastructure sites. In addition to the UAE batteries, the US has deployed another two.

In 2016, the UAE deployed the two Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) systems which give it the capability to conduct engagements above atmospheric levels targeting intercontinental ballistic missiles.


“The UAE's serious approach to missile defense has led to significant advances in capabilities and as a result, places the UAE amongst the world’s most advanced nations,” said Matthew hedges.

According to Maj Gen Bu Ainnain, the UAE’s air defense system is equipped not only to defend UAE territory but also Bahrain, Qatar and parts of Oman and Saudi Arabia.

The UAE is also the first Gulf country to deploy the advanced AN/TPY-2 Surveillance Transportable Radar. The AN/TPY-2 is a long-range, high-altitude surveillance radar that is the primary radar for the THAAD missile system.

The radar has been deployed by US forces in Japan to collect strategic-level information on North Korean missile developments, as well as for warning Japan of incoming warheads.

“The UAE’s recent deployment of the AN/TPY-2 radar and THAAD missile defense system ensures the most effective capability for defense and integrates well alongside the existing Patriot PAC-3 and Hawk systems,” Hedges said.

According to US-based Missile Defense Advocacy Alliance, the UAE possesses the most advanced missile defense assets in the Gulf region as the only country outside the United States to deploy a THAAD battery and the first GCC country to deploy the Patriot PAC-3.

The UAE has also been leading the region in missile defense preparation and training after it opened a dedicated training center in Abu Dhabi in 2010.

The International Air and Missile Defense Centre at Al Bateen Air Base in Abu Dhabi offers training in missile defense systems, battle scenarios and complex exercises, including attack operations and defense against missile attacks.

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