Amid escalating tensions between the United States and Iran, the US Air Force temporarily moved its Middle East command and control center from Qatar to South Carolina as part of a training.
As the Combined Air and Space Operations Center (CAOC) at al-Udeid airbase in Qatar sat empty, operations were being controlled by teams at Shaw Air Force Base in South Carolina. The air operations center coordinates over 300 flights and attacks in areas like Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria.
The base, especially its electronic command center, was established 13 years ago to command fighter planes, bombers, drones and other air force assets in the region stretching from Northeast Africa through the Middle East to South Asia.
Although the move was temporary and lasted 24 hours, it signaled a major tactical shift. The unannounced operation was the first time US command and control had been moved out of the region since the center was established during the 1991 First Gulf War.
While air force personnel said moving functions to a different base had been a long-harbored ambition enabled by new technology, the move comes amid renewed tension with Iran, which lies around 300km to the northeast.
“The functions that the CAOC provides for air power are so critical and so essential that we can’t afford to have a single point of failure,” said Maj. Gen. Chance Saltzman.
Air Force officials said recent incidents involving Iran helped add urgency to the project.
“Iran has indicated multiple times through multiple sources their intent to attack US forces,” said Col. Frederick Coleman, commander of the 609th Air and Space Operations Center.
“Frankly, as the war against ISIS winds down and as we continue to work through a potential peace process in Afghanistan, the region is calming down and potentially more stable than it has been in decades,” he said. “Except for Iran.”