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