Photo Credit: UAE MOD via Twitter
Aerial defense system

The United Arab Emirates Ministry of Defense announced Tuesday (Nov. 16) it has decided to purchase the South Korean Cheongung II (‘heaven’s bow’ in Korean) air defense system.

The decision means the UAE has nixed a contract for the Israeli Iron Dome anti-missile defense system.

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Both Saudi Arabia and the UAE have been mulling the potential purchase of Israel’s Iron Dome system for at least a year.

The UAE is deeply concerned about possible Iranian military action against its nation after signing a normalization agreement with Israel in September 2020.

The US withdrawal of its THAAD and PATRIOT anti-missile defense batteries from Saudi Arabia’s Prince Sultan Air Base outside of Riyadh last year has opened the door to Saudi purchase of other aerial defense systems, Breaking Defense reported in September 2021.

For Saudi Arabia, an Iron Dome system – which would be purchased from manufacturer Rafael’s American partner, Raytheon – would be used to counter missile attacks aimed at the country’s strategic areas by Iranian-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen. Such a purchase would require approval from the Israeli Defense Ministry, an Israeli defense source told the European Security & Defense news outlet earlier this year.

The Saudis are also considering systems from China and Russia.

The UAE MOD said in its tweet announcing the decision that the South Korean system will “constitute a qualitative addition to the capabilities and capabilities of the national air defense.”

The contract for the South Korean-made mid-range surface-to-air missile system (M-SAM) is worth up to $3.5 billion, but has not been finalized, according to an official at South Korea’s Defense Acquisition Program Administration (DAPA) who told the South China Morning Post, “We have nothing to comment on a deal which is still under negotiation.”

The system is designed to intercept missiles at ranges of up to 40 kilometers, at an altitude of up to 15 kilometers. It was developed to replace South Korea’s MIM-23 HAWK systems.

The Israeli Iron Dome system is designed to intercept a variety of short-range rockets, mortars and artillery at a range of four kilometers to 70 kilometers.

The Iron Dome also features a first-of-its-kind multi-mission launcher designed to fire multiple Tamir interceptor missiles simultaneously. The Tamir missiles feature electro-optical sensors and steering fins with proximity fuze blast warheads. The system detects, assesses and intercepts its targets in day or night and in all weather, including low clouds, rain, dust storms and fog.

However, Emirati military officials told the Arabic-language New al-Khalij news website in December 2020 that one disadvantage of the Iron Dome is that its launchers are all located at the same site.

South Korea’s Cheongung II battery consists of a mobile multi-function radar made by Hanwha Systems, a command post vehicle and four launchers, each carrying eight vertically-launched missiles in canisters, according to Jane’s.

The main contractor on the program is South Korean defense major LIG-Nex1; the company is also working on a Block II version of the system to provide ballistic missile protection.

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Hana Levi Julian is a Middle East news analyst with a degree in Mass Communication and Journalism from Southern Connecticut State University. A past columnist with The Jewish Press and senior editor at Arutz 7, Ms. Julian has written for Babble.com, Chabad.org and other media outlets, in addition to her years working in broadcast journalism.