October 25, 2023 | Flash Brief

U.S. Deploys Additional Air and Missile Defenses to Middle East

October 25, 2023 | Flash Brief

U.S. Deploys Additional Air and Missile Defenses to Middle East

Latest Developments

In response to “recent escalations by Iran and its proxy forces,” U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin has directed the deployment of additional air and missile defense systems to the Middle East. They include a “Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) battery as well as additional Patriot battalions to locations throughout the region to increase force protection for U.S. forces.” The Wall Street Journal reported on October 24 that the THAAD battery will be deployed in Saudi Arabia, and Patriot systems will be deployed in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Jordan, Iraq, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates.

Expert Analysis

“American air defense is the consummate example of what we call a ‘high-demand, low-density asset’. That’s fancy language for ‘we don’t have enough.’” — Bradley Bowman, Senior Director of FDD’s Center on Military and Political Power

“The United States needs to deploy American missile defense systems to protect U.S. forward deployed forces and installations and hold Iran accountable for any efforts to harm U.S. personnel and interests.” — Mark Montgomery, Senior Director of FDD’s Center on Cyber and Technology Innovation

“Successful deterrence by denial requires this deployment and activation of missile defense assets like Patriot and THAAD to offset the rising Iranian and proxy missile challenge.” Behnam Ben Taleblu, FDD Senior Fellow

THAAD and Patriot Batteries to Defend American Forces

THAAD is in the middle tier of the U.S. ballistic missile defenses, and “in flight tests, it has demonstrated capability against short-, medium-, and intermediate-range ballistic missiles” according to CSIS’s Missile Defense Project. It is a mobile system that fires a hit-to-kill interceptor capable of defeating ballistic missiles inside and outside of the atmosphere. THAAD achieved success in its first operational use last year, destroying a ballistic missile launched at the UAE by the Houthis in Yemen.

Patriot is in the lower tier of U.S. ballistic missile defenses and is the U.S. Army’s primary air and missile defense system. Initially designed as an antiaircraft system, the latest variants can intercept ballistic missiles, cruise missiles, aircraft, and drones. These systems are typically deployed with point defense systems, like the Counter-Rocket, Artillery, Mortar (C-RAM) system, to defend against smaller threats while preserving expensive interceptors for larger threats. There were no THAAD or Patriot batteries nearby to defend American forces when they came under ballistic missile attack from Iran in 2020, a situation that the Pentagon is likely trying to avoid this time around.

USS Carney Shoots Houthi Cruise Missiles and Drones

Sea-based air defense capabilities can supplement THAAD and Patriot, as the USS Carney demonstrated on October 19 when it shot down four cruise missiles and fifteen drones fired by the Houthis in Yemen, presumably at targets in Israel. The Carney used its SM-2 air defense missiles as part of the interceptions, which are medium-range weapons fired from the vertical launching systems in the ship’s deck. These systems are capable of holding a wide variety of missiles, from interceptors to long-range strike munitions.

Iranian-Backed Militias in Iraq and Syria Continue Attacks on U.S. Troops,” FDD Flash Brief

Tools of Terror: Iran’s Growing Ballistic Missile Threat,” by Bradley Bowman, LTG (Ret.) H.R. McMaster, and Behnam Ben Taleblu

Avoid Overconfidence When It Comes to Middle East Air and Missile Defense,” by Ryan Brobst and Bradley Bowman

Eyeing Tehran, U.S. and GCC Partners Seek to Develop Regional Security Architecture,” FDD Flash Brief

Patriot deployment to Iraq is helpful, but insufficient against Iran,” by Bradley Bowman and Maj. Liane Zivitski


Gulf States Iran Iran Global Threat Network Iran Missiles Military and Political Power U.S. Defense Policy and Strategy