The US military is working to establish a military testing facility in Saudi Arabia, according to an NBC report from Wednesday citing three US unnamed defense officials familiar with the plan.
According to NBC, the facility will test new technologies to combat the growing threat of unmanned drones and will develop and test integrated air and missile defense capabilities. However, the plan is "still in the conceptual phase of development," according to US CENTCOM spokesperson Lt. Col. Dave Eastburn who spoke about the news to the Military Times.
The facility is currently being referred to as the Red Sands Integrated Experimentation Center and it is an "innovative approach to training and readiness between our Middle East partners and the United States," said Eastburn.
The idea for the Red Sands facility was reportedly proposed by CENTCOM commander Gen. Michael Kurilla, who visited Saudi Arabia in July to meet with the Arab state’s armed forces and discuss regional cooperation. According to a US official familiar with the discussion, "there was overwhelming support" for the idea, NBC reported.
The plans for the new testing site come as tensions in the region rise, and as previously unseen security cooperation between Israel and the Arab states begins to come to light as the countries take a unified stand against Iran.
“This concept is one that’s being developed as CENTCOM looks for innovative ways to enhance the strong strategic partnerships that have existed in the region and to build on the successful efforts of our partners to grow peace and stability in the region,” said Eastburn.
Back in July of this year, during President Joe Biden's visit to Saudi Arabia, the two countries agreed on the importance of stopping Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon and Biden affirmed the US' continued commitment to supporting "Saudi Arabia’s security and territorial defense.
“The United States affirmed it would accelerate our cooperation with Saudi Arabia and other partners in the region to counter unmanned aerial systems and missiles that threaten the peace and security of the region,” the White House said at the time.
US officials also explained to NBC that part of the reason Saudi Arabia was chosen as the project's base was that it made the most sense logistically, due to its government-owned large open spaces and the ability to test various methods of electronic warfare, like signal-jamming and directed energy, without interfering with nearby population centers.
“With the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia as the center of gravity for many future regional security endeavors, this is an opportunity,” a US defense official said.
While the costs of the project are not yet clear, US officials told NBC that the US would likely fund about 20% of the costs and provide 20% of the personnel while allies would provide the rest. Likewise, the project's start date is unclear as of now, but it is expected to begin operation before the end of 2022.