US Air Force General Jacqueline D. Van Ovost, the commander of the US Transportation Command (USTRANSCOM), emphasized the strength of US-Saudi relations, which she said represented the cornerstone of continued security and stability in the Middle East.
In an exclusive interview with Asharq Al-Awsat, Van Ovost said the US Central Command was currently working with Saudi Arabia to establish an integrated air defense system to counter missiles and unmanned aircraft, among other technological initiatives.
She noted that her first visit to Riyadh as commander of USTRANSCOM focused on consolidating the strong relationship with the Saudi Ministry of Defense, in the national interest of Saudi Arabia and the United States, as well as to achieve security goals.
Van Ovost described the United States’ military relations with Saudi Arabia as “solid”, saying that the two countries fought side by side during the first Gulf War in the early 1990s and that their partnership was the cornerstone of the continuation of security and stability in the Middle East.
She added that strategic planners from the US Central Command often travelled to Saudi Arabia, and worked regularly with military leaders in the Kingdom. She pointed that the Saudi Ministry of Defense focused on building a modern and innovative military force to meet the defense requirements of the Saudi people.
Over the past years, civilian and vital installations in Saudi Arabia were targets of hundreds attacks by the Iran-backed Houthi militias in Yemen using ballistic missiles and Iranian-made drones.
In her interview, the US general revealed that the US Central Command was currently working with the Kingdom to establish an integrated air defense system to counter missiles and unmanned aircraft, among other technological initiatives.
Iran’s development of drones raises the concern of both the United States and Israel, which accuse Tehran of providing the aircraft to its allies in the Middle East, such as the Lebanese Hezbollah, the Palestinian factions in the Gaza Strip, and the Houthis in Yemen, to target US forces and shipping lanes in the Gulf.
The participation of the Saudi leadership has always been necessary to plan, host and partake in various multilateral exercises with various partners in the region, Van Ovost remarked, adding that the Prince Sultan Air Base was an important location for the US Logistics Transport Command.
In the midst of increasing threats in the Middle East and their impact on US allies, the US general said she believed that mutual visits contributed to building lasting relationships that benefit the national security interests of both countries.
In this context, she noted that the national defense strategy of the United States focused on integrated deterrence, which entailed developing strengths for maximum impact.
Van Ovost renewed her country’s commitment to the security of its allies, underlining the US effort to promote the security of its partners against external threats, such as those coming from Iran.
She revealed that the US Central Command recently formed multiple task forces, which were integrated with allies and regional partners to take advantage of data collected from manned and unmanned land, air, and sea sensor systems to provide a more accurate joint understanding of threats.
The commander of USTRANSCOM stressed that her country’s partnerships were essential to achieving regional stability.
She went on to say that the ability to respond quickly to any global crisis depended on strong relationships with allies and partners.
According to Van Ovost, the Saudi-American initiative to develop regional transport links would help confront the growing threat from Iran and its proxies. She also valued Saudi Arabia’s support for the Gulf Cooperation Council, as well as its generous financial support in establishing a joint network.
She underlined that that the region’s complex problems required multi-dimensional and multi-partner solutions.
What is unequivocally certain is that countries become stronger when they work together, she said, pointing to the need to consolidate ties with key allies and partners, to move faster and more efficiently across the full range of operations, and overcome the challenges.
Van Ovost revealed that the commander of the US Central Command, General Michael Kurilla, focused on individuals, partners, and innovations, and recently organized a competition called, Innovation Oasis, during which a young officer serving at the Prince Sultan Air Force developed a global training system to combat drones.
The system is in the process of implementation, she noted.
She said that she was confident that many innovative ideas in the US and Saudi Arabia, when combined, would benefit the security of the Middle East, stressing that the highly skilled staff would rise to these challenges.