The Complex

The U.S. is Buying Even More Hardware For Yemen's Military

U.S. drones have been battering Yemen, killing at least 28 people, and American spy planes watch from overhead. And now, Yemen's skies are looking to get even more crowded. The U.S. Navy is helping the Yemeni air force buy 12 light spy planes, adding to the hundreds of millions of dollars worth of military aid the U.S. given to the Sana'a regime.

The Navy's Light Observation Aircraft for Yemen program aims to buy 12 small planes -- or maybe choppers -- equipped with infrared and night vision cameras and the ability to beam the images collected by those cameras back to a ground station. (The image above shows one of the Iraq air force's CH2000 light obsevation planes.)

"The contractor shall also provide pilot, sensor operator, and maintainer training and associated training materials all in Arabic," reads an Aug. 8 U.S. Navy notice to potential suppliers.

The Navy wants to buy the aircraft on the cheap, too. This is a "Low Price Technically Acceptable source selection, " which means the lowest bidder who meets the bare minimum technical requirements for the Yemenis will get the contract.

As FP's Gordon Lubold and Noah Shachtman reported earlier this week, the U.S. has recently reopened to the door to military aid to Yemen following a yearlong suspension over concerns about human rights abuses by the government of Yemeni's former president Ali Abdullah Saleh.

The U.S. currently gives the Yemeni military everything from light spy planes, night vision goggles, weapons and tiny Raven drones to hunt terrorists. In addition to the hardware, the U.S. spends millions of dollars to train Yemeni terrorist hunters to use the gear.

As Lubold and Shachtman note, one of the big problems with all this is that the U.S. has few people on the ground to oversee the use of all this gear it's providing to Yemen due to the dicey security situation there.

"Because of leadership and coordination challenges within the Yemeni government, key recipients of U.S. security assistance made limited use of this assistance until recently to combat [al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula] in support of the U.S. strategic goal of improving Yemen's security," states a March 2013 GAO report.

Then there's the ring of American around Yemen that U.S. aircraft and special operators can launch missions into the country from. Remember, the U.S. had thousands of troops along with a rotating fleet of bombers, drones, and spy planes at its regional hub at Camp Lemonnier, Djibouti. It's also got secret airfields deep --and we mean deep -- in the Saudi and Yemeni deserts said to host CIA drones. There are also airfields used occasionally by U.S. forces and drones further away in places like the Seychelles, Ethiopia and Oman.

It remains to be seen whether this small arsenal is enough to stem the growth of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) there. After all, four years of drone strikes in Yemen and AQAPs numbers are rising.

U.S. Army

National Security

Is This Iran's First ICBM Launch Site?


You're looking at what may be the launch site that Iran is secretly building for its first intercontinental ballistic missiles. And that means Tehran could be inching dangerously close to striking foes from thousands of miles away.

This complex, revealed by Jane's Intelligence Review last night, appears to be Iran's latest space launch facility. However, this site, located about 35-40 kilometers southeast of the town of Shahrud, may be geared toward testing ICBMs instead of rockets meant to loft satellites into orbit.

"Imagery analysis of the Shahrud site suggests it will be a strategic facility used to test ballistic missiles, leaving the other two sites free to handle Iran's ambitious program of satellite launches," Matthew Clements, Editor at IHS Jane's Military and Security Assessments Centre, said in a statement.

How can you tell? Jane's says that July 2013 satellite imagery of the site shows rocket assembly buildings and a launch tower that are significantly smaller than those found at Iran's other space launch facility, near the town of Semnan. This may reflect the fact that the Shahrud facility is built to accommodate smaller, truck-mounted ballistic missiles compared instead of much larger satellite-lifting rockets.

(Remember, ICBMs aren't always launched from silos the way America's Minuteman III missiles are. Iran may well be trying to develop truck-launched ICBMs resembling those found in Russia and China.)

The new site also lacks a liquid-fuel storage facility needed to support the rockets that hoist Iranian satellites into space

Furthermore, the launch pad at Shahrud looks to Jane's like it's been built to support the weight of the larger missile carrying trucks that will lob ballistic missiles skyward.

"One explanation for the different pad sizes is that the one at Shahrud is designed to handle test launches of ballistic missiles fired from transporter-erector launcher (TEL) vehicles rather than [space launch vehicles]," reads the private intelligence firm's report on the site.

All of these signs point to Iran possibly getting ready to start testing a no-kidding intercontinental ballistic missile.

"Iran's claim that its 2,000 km-range, solid-fuel Sejjil missile is already in service after two tests suggests the next stage in the program will be the development of an intercontinental ballistic missile," claims Jane's.

Adding some credence to the theory is the Pentagon's 2012 estimate that Iran will be able to test an ICBM by 2015.

While satellite images of a construction site don't provide anything close to definitive proof that Iran will be testing ICBMs here, Janes' analysis "doesn't seem to be wildly inconsistent with the Intelligence Community's estimates," said Jeffrey Lewis, of the James R. Martin Center for Non-Proliferation Studies tells Killer Apps.

Whether this new site will be used to test ICBMs or less destructive, satellite-launching missiles, one thing is clear, Iran's missile program is advancing steadily.

(Maybe this is the next place you should be watching for a mysterious, massive set of explosions like the 2011 blasts that killed the architect of Iran's missile program, Major General Hassan Moghaddam, at the Alghadir missile base in Bid Ganeh.)