US to build airbase in Oman

  • From: "Muslim-News" <editor_@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • To: <submit@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • Date: Sat, 20 Apr 2002 15:26:30 +0100

AMERICA is to spend £90m to build a new airbase in Oman with runways
long enough to handle B52 strategic bombers and heavy-lift transport
aircraft. 

The move is seen as providing Pentagon planners with options for a
possible aerial blitzkrieg against Iraq which do not depend on Saudi
Arabia's co-operation. 

The base, at Musnanah, about 80 miles west of Muscat, the Gulf
sultanate's capital, is ostensibly being provided "for the use of the
Omani air force" under the US foreign military assistance programme. 

But Oman has no aircraft which need runways almost three miles long, the
key specification for the new airfield. 

The US is also paying for expansion of the infrastructure at Udeid
airbase in Qatar, including new computer equipment and housing. US
surveillance, airborne refuelling tankers, and fighters already operate
from the base. 

Work on turning the Prince Sultan facility in the desert 60 miles south
of Riyadh in Saudi Arabia into America's regional war-fighting command
centre was completed last year, but now faces an uncertain future
because of Saudi opposition to a renewed military assault on Iraq. The
US has maintained a garrison of about 4500 troops and 100 aircraft in
the country since the end of the 1991 Gulf war as a deterrent to Saddam
Hussein's territorial ambitions. The Prince Sultan complex, one of the
best-equipped anywhere in the world, has been the nerve centre for
co-ordinating air attacks during the campaign in Afghanistan. 

Growing unrest among Islamic militants in the feudal kingdom, including
a bomb attack on US barracks four years ago, have forced the US to
maintain a low profile away from main cities. 

A Pentagon source denied yesterday expansion of airbase options in Qatar
and Oman were the opening moves in a withdrawal from Saudi Arabia. 

"We have no current plans to move the Prince Sultan combined air
operations centre, but that doesn't mean we don't have plans to
replicate it elsewhere," he said. 

Meanwhile, Britain's military top brass say the defence budget is being
subjected to a series of "stealth cuts" which could render the armed
forces incapable of taking an effective part in any future campaign
against Iraq. 

A behind-the-scenes battle has been raging between the Treasury and the
Ministry of Defence for the last two years, with chancellor Gordon Brown
determined to slash £1.5bn from military spending to fund health and
education programmes. 

All non-operational military training this year has been put on hold,
and a major annual tank exercise in Canada designed to keep the armoured
battlegroups which would spearhead any ground war in Iraq at peak
readiness cancelled to save £19m. 

The 5000-strong UK peacekeeping garrison in Kosovo is to be cut to 1200
men, and orders for overdue Nimrod surveillance aircraft have been
reduced from 21 to 18 to prune £500m from a procurement budget which is
already between £400m and £600m short of requirement. 

Despite public promises by prime minister Tony Blair the cost of the
UK's involvement in the war against terrorism would be met from
contingency funds, the Treasury has agreed to meet only £155m of the
£261m tab for operations in Afghanistan to the beginning of April. 

The announcement the Royal Navy's three Sea Harrier squadrons are to be
disbanded means any maritime task force sent to a troublespot after 2006
will need US aerial protection. 

It will be 2012 at least before a naval version of the still
experimental joint strike fighter becomes available to replace the Sea
Harrier, the aircraft credited with more than 80% of air-to-air "kills"
during the Falklands war. 

Until the JSF is operational, British warships will be highly vulnerable
to attack. Even the new Type 23 frigates, designed for anti-aircraft
warfare, are equipped with radar which is effective to only 20 miles. 

Source:  The Herald

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