- US Central Command is asking Congress for $US21 million to expand its logistics footprint at the port of Duqm in Oman.
- Located outside the Persian Gulf, Duqm gives the US more capabilities in the region, including another port that aircraft carriers can use.
- Duqm could also give the US an advantage in a burgeoning competition with China, which is expanding its influence around the world.
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A year after the US clinched a deal with Oman to access facilities and ports in Duqm, US Central Command, which oversees military operations in the Middle East, is asking for money to expand its operations there.
When the deal was stuck, US officials said it provided better access the Persian Gulf and reduced the need to sail through the Strait of Hormuz, a maritime choke point that Iran has threatened to block. US 5th Fleet, which is responsible for the region, is based in the Gulf on the island of Bahrain.
“The port itself is very attractive, and the geostrategic location is very attractive, again being outside the Strait of Hormuz,” a US official told Reuters at the time, adding that negotiations began under Obama.
In an unfunded priorities list submitted to lawmakers last month and obtained by Insider, Central Command chief Gen. Kenneth McKenzie requested a total of $US371.8 million to “increase our intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance capacity, support countering unmanned aerial systems threats, provide for base defence and resiliency, and conduct inform and influence activities against malign state actors and their proxies.”
Of that money, which is not included in the proposed budget, $US21 million would go “to continue developing Duqm, Oman as the only fully capable and scalable logistics hub” outside the Gulf that can support the US military with “distribution for all classes of supply,” McKenzie wrote.
Below, you can see what goes on at Duqm and why the US is so keen to be there.
The US and Oman signed a “Strategic Framework Agreement” on March 24, 2019, allowing US forces to use the ports of Al Duqm and Salalah.
The deal allowed Oman to advance its efforts to transform Duqm into an industrial hub and port centre and offered the US better positioning in the region amid a growing competition with China for influence all over the world.
China has already set up its first overseas military base, billed as a logistics hub, in the East African country of Djibouti, not far from the US’s biggest base in Africa. Chinese firms at one point also planned to invest up to $US10.7 billion in Duqm for commercial development.
But at the time the US and Oman signed their deal, US officials told Reuters the Chinese didn’t appear to have done any work in the part of Duqm set aside for them.
Concerns about China notwithstanding, US officials framed the deal with Oman over Duqm as a success in its efforts with partners in the region against Iran.
The US Embassy in Oman said at the time that the deal “reaffirms the commitment of both countries to promoting mutual security goals.”
“We used to operate on the assumption that we could just steam into the Gulf,” but “the quality and quantity of Iranian weapons raises concerns,” one US official told Reuters.
The port at Duqm is also large enough to host aircraft carriers.
In January, aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman and guided-missile cruiser USS Normandy made their first port visit at Duqm while transiting through the 5th Fleet area of responsibility.
Personnel from Naval Supply Systems Command Fleet Logistics Centre Bahrain travelled to Duqm to help offload cargo, including 6,000 pounds of mail and flu vaccines for the Normandy. They also found lost baggage for a service member who travelled commercially to meet the Truman.
“Supporting a ship with 5,000-plus sailors can be a complex and challenging logistical evolution. It helps us at NAVSUP FLC Bahrain, as well as the ship’s company, to have personnel on site,” said Joshua Wells, a contracting officer with NAVSUP FLC Bahrain.
Source: US Navy
The $US21 million requested by Central Command would “go to support waterfront operations, warehouse, boat maintenance, and ordnance facilities and activities for all three Service Components,” the unfunded priorities letter says.
“Further development ensures Duqm supports a more efficient, flexible, and resilient [Central Command] posture with dispersed aerial- and sea-port of debarkation capabilities that mitigate movement constraints through strategic maritime chokepoints,” it adds.
In addition to $US21 million for logistics upgrades, Central Command requested $US24.1 million for commercial equipment to secure Duqm and other facilities in the region.
“Many existing operating locations require additional equipment to accommodate theatre force re-posturing in response to Iranian aggression and counter-ISIS campaigns,” the letter says.
In response to that demand, Central Command requested commercially available equipment to “protect against ground attacks, small-unmanned aerial systems (sUAS), and terrorist networks in high-threat environments.”
“This equipment provides Security Forces with critical explosive detection capabilities, ballistic gatehouses and towers, anti-vehicle barriers, portable small arms armories, and intrusion detection capabilities,” the letter says, adding that it takes about nine months from purchase to delivery of commercial-off-the-shelf equipment due to long lead times for some items.
“Emerging demand signals have depleted [force protection] equipment stockpiles and surpassed incremental funding capability,” the letter says.
An infusion of funding for fiscal year 2021, it adds, “will help alleviate equipment shortfalls that support future contingency operations.”