CENTCOM relocates operations from Qatar fearing a new Pearl Harbor attack
While the people of a nation revel in their country’s military victories, it is the military disasters that impact the country’s military leaders.
This is true for the United States, which remembers its worst military loss – Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. On that day the Japanese killed over 3,000 American sailors, soldiers and Marines, while sinking a major part of the US Pacific Fleet.
The American defeat allowed the Japanese to run rampant over Asia, conquering a large swath of the continent from Burma to the Solomon Islands. The Dutch, British, Australian, and American ships available couldn’t stop the Imperial Japanese fleet.
It wasn’t until seven months later at the Battle of Midway, that the US regained the initiative.
The specter of that defeat still resonates in the American military and the words “Pearl Harbor” still means a sudden, devastating military attack on the US.
That’s why the US recently temporarily moved operations from the American base in Qatar to a command center in South Carolina, USA.
The alleged Iranian attack on the Saudi oil refinery was an eye opener for the US military. While the US had made use of low flying cruise missiles, they were unprepared to defend themselves from such an attack. The Saudis had a sophisticated air defense system that is much like what the US and NATO has – one that can stop high altitude ballistic missiles and aircraft. It had American Patriot missile defense, German Skyguard air defense cannons, and French Shahine mobile air defense.
While the alleged Iranian-made cruise missile flew under the operational envelope of the Patriot, the French Shahine and German Skyguard radar have a limited detection range for low flying missiles. There is also a question about the competency of Saudi soldiers manning the air defense systems. Are they able to react fast enough to defeat low flying missiles?
Ironically, for a country that spends more than all but two nations on defense (China and the US surpass Saudi Arabia), the Saudi air defense system needs a multi-layered air-defense system.
That flaw in its air defense system isn’t limited to Saudi Arabia. The US is also vulnerable to low flying missiles, which forced the Americans to look at its CENTCOM command in Qatar.
The US Middle Eastern Central Command in Al Udeid Air Base, Doha, Qatar is within range of Iran’s missile inventory. This operational headquarters is where daily combat operations for Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, and the entire Gulf region are controlled. On a regular day, the command is controlling as many as 300 US warplanes.
Suddenly after the alleged Iranian missile strike on the Saudi refinery, US officials realized that CENTCOM’s command facilities in Qatar were vulnerable to a “Pearly Harbor” style attack by Iranian missiles.
Without the Qatar based command center, America’s ability to control operations in the Middle East would fall apart, leaving Iran an opening to carry out attacks across the region without any American intervention.
In response, the US decided to practice switching operational control of US military operations from Qatar to a facility in South Carolina that has never been used before. Last Saturday, was the first test and the South Carolina command handled American operations for a 24-hour period before handing operations back to the command center in Qatar.
Current plans are for the South Carolina command center to take control for one day a month. It will then expand control to 8 hours a day. The alternate command center will always be manned in case of an attack in Qatar by the Iranians.
According to military analysts here in Washington, “with an operational command center in the US, American forces in the Middle East will be prepared for a regional conflict, especially one that involves Iranian attacks on US command and control centers”.
The plan is that any missile strike against the operational command in Qatar would bring the South Carolina command immediately online. The switch would be seamless and wouldn’t interfere with any combat operations taking place.
This shift shouldn’t be a reduction in the commitment to American allies in the region. Rather, it’s a recognition that Iran might strike US bases and the US wants to be able to quickly retaliate.
Although Al Udeid Air Base still is home to thousands of Americans, the ability to carry out command and control functions from South Carolina means that the chances of a “Pearl Harbor” type of strike by the Iranians on Al Udeid Air Base is limited but not completely avoidable. It also perceived that it won’t take the US seven months to regain the initiative as it did in WWII.