Houthi terror attack foiled: UAE's air defence is among the best, say experts

The Ministry of Defence said it is "ready to deal with any threats, and that it takes all necessary measures to protect the state from all attacks."


Anjana Sankar

Published: Mon 24 Jan 2022, 9:40 PM

Last updated: Mon 24 Jan 2022, 10:59 PM

The UAE’s advanced air defence system and its military forces are considered among the best and capable of confronting any threats, experts have said.

“The UAE is the most advanced country in the region in the area of missile defence,” said Riyadh Kahwaji, a UAE-based defence and security analyst.

“The Air Force and Air Defence Command were the first to pursue building a multi-layered missile defence system that has early warning platforms, target tracking radars and missiles to intercept on low to high altitude, like the Patriot PAC-3 missiles and the Theater High Altitude Air Defence (THAAD) missiles,” he said.

The comment came shortly after reports emerged that the UAE intercepted and destroyed two ballistic missiles fired by the Houthi terror group towards the country earlier today.

This is the second attack within a week by the Yemen-based rebel group on UAE’s Capital. Deadly strikes on January 17 killed three civilians and destroyed Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (Adnoc) fuel depots and caused a minor fire in the construction area of the Abu Dhabi International Airport.

The ministry’s Joint Operations Command said it used an F-16 to destroy the ballistic missile launcher at 4.10am (Yemen time) in Al Jauf. A video released by the ministry on its Twitter handle showed the satellite video of the operation. Fragments of the destroyed missiles fell safely in different areas of Abu Dhabi, without causing any casualties, the ministry added.

The ministry said it is "ready to deal with any threats, and that it takes all necessary measures to protect the state from all attacks."

Kahwaji said the UAE was the first to acquire the THAAD, which enhanced its defence against ballistic missiles. THAAD is an American anti-ballistic missile defence system designed to shoot down short-, medium-, and intermediate-range ballistic missiles in their terminal phase (descent or re-entry) by intercepting with a hit-to-kill approach.

In October 2020, American scholar Kenneth Pollack in an article said, over the past two decades, the UAE Armed Forces have emerged as the “most capable in the Arab world".

UAE is a key US ally in the Middle East and has played a significant diplomatic and military role in shaping the geopolitics of the region.

Seth Frantzman, an Israeli security expert and author of 'Drone Wars: Pioneers, Killing Machines, Artificial Intelligence, and the Battle for the Future,' said, in the wake of the Abraham Accords, there are new possibilities for UAE-Israel-US cooperation on air defence technology.

“Israel and the United States have worked together closely on-air defence technology for years. Israel recently completed a test of the Arrow defence system and it has improved the capabilities of Iron Dome,” Frantzman told Khaleej Times.

He said the recent attacks are “part of a wider regional threat” in which missiles and drones, many of them provided by Iran to militant or terrorist groups in the region, are becoming increasingly sophisticated in their range and precision.

“Air defences against missile and drone attacks are in the spotlight after the recent attacks on the UAE by Houthis in Yemen. Air defence capabilities must keep up with the rising missile and drone threat,” he said.

Last year, Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) and the UAE's own defence company, Edge, announced cooperation on counter-drone solutions.

“Countering small drones is only one layer of air defences. Air defences require a multi-layered approach, with technologies used to stop low level and high-level threats, as well as the radar and detection systems to identify threats. Israel is a leader in this technology and the recent threats illustrate how possibilities may emerge for more work together to identify and stop threats,” said Frantzman.


Ahmed Nagi Abdullah, nonresident scholar at Malcolm H. Kerr Carnegie Middle East Centre, said such attacks have not been ruled out by the UAE, especially in the last two years, when Houthis intensified their operations inside Yemen and beyond the Yemeni borders.

“This pushed the UAE to invest in advanced aerial defence in order to protect its territories from any threat,” said Abdullah.

“On the other side, the attacks provided clear signals for the increasing Iranian support that Houthis are receiving, knowing that most of the advanced weapons used by Houthis are coming from Iran. Moreover, many observers pointed the finger at Tehran as being the real culprit in the current attack,” he added.

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