The Pentagon is moving at least four PAC-3 Patriot air defense systems out of the Middle East though it’s not yet clear where they will be redeployed, The Wall Street Journal reports.
The move leaves the U.S. and its allies with fewer air defenses in the Middle East even as the Trump administration is increasing its bellicose rhetoric against Iran.
The paper reported further:
Defense Secretary Jim Mattis is pulling four Patriot missile systems out of Jordan, Kuwait and Bahrain next month in a realignment of forces and capabilities as the military steps up its focus on threats from China and Russia, multiple senior military officials said.
The relocation of the systems out of the Middle East, which hasn’t been previously disclosed, is one of the most tangible signs of the Pentagon’s new focus on threats from Russia and China and away from the long-running conflicts in the Middle East and Afghanistan.
Two Patriot missile systems will be redeployed from Kuwait, and one each from Jordan and Bahrain, officials said. Patriots are mobile missile systems capable of shooting down missiles and planes.
The systems are being sent back to the United States for maintenance, upgrades, and refurbishing. The report did not say where the systems will be redeployed.
Analysis: Though the Trump administration has ramped up its rhetoric against Iran, including the State Department release this week of a 48-page report detailing Iranian threats, President Trump and Defense Secretary James Mattis wouldn’t be pulling these assets out if there weren’t assets in place to replace them.
Israel, for instance, has a robust missile defense shield equipped with self-developed systems in conjunction with Patriot missiles. The Saudis also have Patriot systems of their own which have been used frequently to down missiles fired from Yemen by Iran-backed rebels.
Some analysts have also speculated that the threats to U.S. and allied forces in the region no longer rise to the level justifying a more muscular air defense. Iran, for instance, simply does not have the precision ballistic missile capacity to strike Israel or American military assets. What’s more, there are a host of U.S. response options for Iran, as well as the forces in place, to deal with any Tehran action.
As to where these refurbished systems will go, it’s likely they’re going to find their way to Eastern Europe and/or Asia. That would align with the Trump administration’s reorientation of U.S. forces toward countering China and Russia.
The speed at which the administration is realigning U.S. forces is telling as well. As we noted earlier today in a separate analysis, there are fewer U.S. Navy aircraft carriers spending fewer days at sea because the carrier fleet is undergoing much-needed maintenance after being over-deployed for 17-odd years during the Global War On Terror (GWOT). Clearly, getting the carriers refurbished is necessary, but putting fewer of them to sea in an effort to perform much-needed maintenance is an indication the Pentagon is prioritizing repairs over power projection for the moment. That means Mattis needs them to be ready for action at a later date.
While threats remain in the Middle East, clearly the Trump administration is prioritizing readiness and capability aimed at deterring future Russian and Chinese aggression.