Arab militaries adapt to ‘hybrid’ threats

Friday 08/01/2016
New challenges. Saudi Royal Air Force performing at the Riyadh military airport, in the Saudi capital.

Dubai - Heightening tensions and political polarisa­tion characterised 2015 in the Middle East. With the perpetua­tion of the Assad regime in Syria, the consequential rise of the Is­lamic State (ISIS) and instability in Yemen, Arab militaries witnessed a continuation of trends in threat dynamics generating a new cat­egory of security challenges. Their impact is becoming more evident in the defence posture and spend­ing by Arab militaries.
Traditionally, Arab states ap­proached defence in numbers — more personnel, vehicles, air­craft and essentially any type of military equipment. This generally translated into greater confidence in confronting prevailing threats. That was a justifiable approach to defence when the most serious threats to Arab states emanated simply from Israel or ideologically motivated regimes, all challeng­ing the status quo and contending to inspire some manner of revo­lution, in an unstable neighbour­hood.
Powerful, armed non-state threats employing unconventional and asymmetric military tactics represent serious threats along­side traditional ones. Arab mili­taries are re-posturing to prepare for hybrid wars, where a milieu of armed non-state actors will oper­ate in unison with state actors. The emerging threat environment has far-reaching implications in defence planning for Arab states, especially as the Middle East again becomes a battleground in global power competition.
The rise of non-state actors pre­sents new challenges given their preferred modus operandi, which typically avoids direct combat and instead employs tactics, tech­niques and procedures designed to keep them out of the line-of-sight. Hit-and-run operations, snipers, ambushes and improvised explo­sive devices, swarming, hostage-taking, torture, mass executions and embedding in civilian popula­tions to maximise the chance of ci­vilian deaths in an attempt to deter air targeting from enemies are all common among armed non-state actors.
Contending with hybrid threats requires a different approach to the challenge of traditional threats from state foes and priority has to be given to a different set of techni­cal capabilities and likely mission profiles for military operators. For example, hybrid threat-focused forces typically prioritise manoeu­verability over endurance, tactical intelligence-gathering over long-range, multi-domain surveillance, close-in air support over beyond visual range targeting and rapid deployment over maintaining a larger, more dynamic set of multi-mission capabilities.
Although US Secretary of De­fense Ashton Carter recently ques­tioned the focus of Arab militaries on building up air power at the ex­pense of investing more in ground force capabilities, Arab states are paying greater attention to the sort of capabilities required to meet­ing the type of emerging hybrid threat posed by ISIS and similar non-state actors bent on leading insurgency campaigns. Although Arab militaries will not discount or make redundant the other drivers to strategic defence posture and planning, there is a growing shift towards recalibrating defence ca­pabilities.
Saudi Arabia is finalising a new purchase of heavy and light ar­moured vehicles, Sea Hawk heli­copters with advanced precision rockets and procuring dozens of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) from the United States. Riyadh has also ordered a number of Spydr aircraft, used by the United States to track Taliban insurgents in Af­ghanistan. The Saudis are busy with a $1.29 billion effort to re­plenish inventories of laser-guided bombs and precision-strike war­heads being depleted by ongoing operations in Yemen.
As the UAE mulls a new combat aircraft purchase, it is acquiring AgustaWestland AW609 search-and-rescue tilt-rotor aircraft, lo­cally manufactured UAVs for in­telligence-gathering. The UAE will become the first country to receive advanced Predator drones. Addi­tionally, it has ordered 500 Nimr vehicles and upgrades for an ex­isting fleet and is buying 80,000 type CAR 816 modern assault ri­fles as well as an acoustic hostile fire warning system for its ground forces.
Egypt bought two Mistral war­ships from France — each of which can carry 16 helicopters, four land­ing craft and 13 tanks. Egypt has also reportedly agreed to purchase 50 Kamov Ka-52 attack helicop­ters from Russia, believed to be deployed on the Mistrals. Egypt is acquiring additional AH-64D Apache attack helicopters from the United States as well as receiving upgrades for Abrams tanks.
Lebanon, in the midst of a $3 billion Saudi-funded modernisa­tion programme, set to deliver armoured combat and transport vehicles, Cougar helicopters and corvettes. Lebanon has boosted its firepower by doubling its arsenal of howitzers and acquiring Caesar self-propelled guns, as well as air-launched Hellfire and TOW II mis­siles for the first time. Addition­ally, Cessna Caravan aircraft will provide Lebanon new airborne intelligence-gathering capabilities, supporting its purchase of six A-29 Super Tucano aircraft.
The most salient features of ar­mament acquisitions in 2015 has been a movement towards gearing up for the threat of hybrid wars, which require a different approach and set of technical capabilities to traditional security threats. These developments are likely to be­come more pronounced as Arab militaries manoeuver to respond to an evolving threat environment where armed non-state actors grow in influence and insurgencies gain in intensity.