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US, Saudi Arabia complete counter-drone exercise in Riyadh's 'Red Sands'

Riyadh: The US and Saudi Arabia have completed their first joint counter-drone exercise at a new military testing centre in Riyadh, according to the head of the United States Central Command (CENTCOM), as reported by AlArabiya.
The exercise, which was completed last week, was the first of its kind between the two militaries, and US officials hope to replicate this with other armies in the region. The Red Sands Experimentation Center had been under discussion for some time. The US military said it would serve as an innovative approach to training and readiness between Washington and its Middle East partners, AlArabiya reported.
Last week's exercises were not highly publicized, but officials have said this was just the beginning of what they hope would be more in-depth and sophisticated drills.
The focus was on small Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS), an official with knowledge of the exercise said, AlArabiya reported.
On Thursday, CENTCOM chief Gen. Erik Kurilla told lawmakers on the House Armed Services Committee that the counter-UAS drills involved live-fire exercises and allowed for studying complex threats and identifying weaknesses in other areas to counter drone activities.
He also hinted that directed energy weapons could be brought into the region at a later date in what is expected to be for air defence purposes, AlArabiya reported.
Hours after Gen. Kurilla's testimony on Capitol Hill, a one-way Iranian attack drone targeted US forces in Syria. An American contractor was killed, and five other troops were wounded alongside another US contractor.
Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said that the US retaliated, striking targets inside Syria linked to Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC). He said the US airstrikes were in response to Thursday's attack as well as a series of recent attacks against US and Coalition forces by groups backed by Iran, AlArabiya reported.
On Thursday, Gen. Kurilla said that US forces had suffered 78 Iranian attacks since January 2021. The US had only responded three times, according to CENTCOM.
Last week's joint exercise comes at a time when Saudi Arabia and Iran have agreed to normalize ties and restore diplomatic relations, AlArabiya reported.
While Gen. Kurilla was asked several times during his Thursday testimony about the agreement, he repeatedly stated that it still needed to be implemented. Kurilla also said the mere fact that the Chinese-backed deal was reached did not mean that Iran's malign activity was no longer a concern of regional countries.
Melissa Horvath, a non-resident senior fellow at the Middle East Institute (MEI), said the Red Sands exercises were an important way for the US to show continued commitment to Saudi Arabia and to build regional cooperation among Middle East allies in ways that go beyond traditional security assistance programs such as foreign military sales, AlArabiya reported.
In recent years, the US has been accused of becoming disinterested, disengaged and leaving the Middle East to respond to more acute threats from Russia and China. This narrative has picked up steam since the Biden administration took office and the start of the Russian war on Ukraine.
Further criticism was levied upon the administration following this month's diplomatic breakthrough between Riyadh and Tehran, which Beijing mediated. Washington said that China came through at the tail end of the negotiations and took the credit for what had been in the works for years, AlArabiya reported.
"While the recent Chinese-brokered Saudi-Iran deal may de-escalate tensions in the region, it's unlikely to eliminate all threats from small UASs - leaving continued opportunities for regional cooperation, new technologies, experimentation, and innovation," Horvath told AlArabiya English.
She pointed to Saudi Arabia establishing a joint venture with a Chinese firm to set up a research and development centre focusing on UASs, including anti-drone solutions.
"The US should be looking to remain the partner of choice in the region," Horvath said, adding that the Red Sands drills would go a long way in demonstrating the value of partnering with the US and the superiority of US technology in countering UAS threats, AlArabiya reported. (ANI)

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