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New Infrastructure at the UAE’s al-Hamra Military Airfield

October 10, 2018

By Bellingcat Contributor

Translations: Русский

Imagery acquired by Planet Labs on 23 Sept 2018

The UAE has added eight new aircraft shelters and a weapon storage area to a reserve airfield on the coast, commercial satellite imagery shows. The activity suggests that the UAE may maintain a detachment at the reserve airfield to rapidly respond to potential threats. Assets routinely deployed at al-Hamra include the AH-64 Apache and the UH-60 Black Hawk. This location, and other nearby facilities, are frequently used for military exercises.

The airfield — located less than 100 km from the Qatar border — sits between some significant civilian infrastructure. To the east lies the Shuweihat power complex featuring three combined cycle power plants with co-located desalination. The three plants have a nameplate capacity of 4,520 megawatts. Adjacent to the power plants is the Ruweis Refinery complex operated by the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (ADNOC). ADNOC plans to expand refinery operations and petrochemical production over the next five years with an additional $45 billion investment. Ruweis features the country’s single largest refinery.

To the west of the airfield is the $20 billion four unit Barakah nuclear power plant. Just last year, South Korean workers completed Unit 1 and reported that fuel would be loaded into the reactor pending regulatory approval. In August 2018, Unit 2 went through hot functional tests that simulate the temperatures and pressures that the reactor will experience during normal operation. When the first reactor goes online in 2019, the UAE will become the region’s second consumer of nuclear energy after Iran.

These developments continue to put high value on coastal protection, as perhaps exemplified by the recent deployment activity. In 2007, the UAE stood up a little known agency, the Critical Infrastructure and Coastal Protection Authority, whose mission is to anticipate and guard against threats to high value infrastructure. The agency routinely works with other government authorities and the armed forces to accomplish its mission.

With the UAE’s ongoing involvement in hostilities in Yemen, external threats to the Gulf country, particularly to soft targets, remain a concern. Since December 2017, Houthi rebels have communicated their intent to target the country in strikes. The most recent threat was made in August when UAE forces moved on the port city of Hudaida.

Bottom Line

As the UAE comes under increasing external threat, bolstering military elements on the border and near significant infrastructure will likely continue.

This post originally appeared on Offiziere.

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4 Comments

  1. Polish reader

    UAE is the biggest buyer of the military weapons from the USA, at least from year 2017. By doing this, they are protected same as any NATO country. Well done Persian Arabs. Just like everything, you Muslims do, you can’t earn it? Buy it by the oil money. Good luck on your desert. Oh, just a little reminder, we go electrical now. No oil money, no protection. No nothing. Enjoy your supercars as long as you can, soon you will exchange it for water.

    Reply
  2. S Fisher

    The trouble with the UAE going for Nuclear reactors in that area so close to other facilities is the threat of potential terrorist threats to the facilities ,
    The troops of the UAE may have all the military hardware the country can buy , but if the soldiers are unable to use them to the best effect and are unable to think on their feet then their is no protection to the installations ,
    Arab troops are great when they have western troops supporting them and leading them in a combat zone but not very effective when left to their own devices ,
    ISIS is great at moving location and creating new structures to operate under especially when funded by those who have funded them over the years .

    As an ex British soldier and a civilian security operative i suspect that the UAE will see many threats for their country .

    Reply
    • Neil Hunter

      I doubt that your criticism of Arab troops is fair in the case of Gulf Arabs, rather than North African or Middle East Arabs, though I’ve heard many claims that they tend to leave everyday civilian work to others while they supervise ineffectually. Aren’t all the officers educated at Sandhurst by the British?

      Reply
  3. R.McCue

    Why is the UAE buying nuclear plants? The economics are just plain awful. Even as an oil substitution mechanism the economics are awful. The answer I suspect is that the purchase is not part of a oil substitution mechanism, nor a concern for the environment, but to gain nuclear capacity. The only stumbling block for any state to build nuclear weapons is the possession of fissile materials. Atom Bombs are 1940’s physics, using 1930’s machine tools, and the actual designs appear to be pretty widespread – thank you A.Q. Khan. All current fission reactors produce plutonium – the only issue is extracting it. A great deal of non proliferation activity is directed to restricting, seizing and rendering safe, potential plutonium from spent nuclear fuels. In a region where Israel, Pakistan and India all have “known” nuclear capacity, where Saudia Arabia may have a claim on a few, or many, Pakistani weapons, and where our friends in Iran (suspended), Iraq (defunct pending reconstruction) , and Syria (defunct pending reconstruction), had viable nuclear weapons programs this may not be good news.

    Reply

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