Arabian Gulf National and Joint Military Force: Reality and Future

ByDr. Zafir Mohammad Alajami

The security issue has been the chief concern for the Gulf Cooperation Council Countries (GCC) Since Gulf War I in 1981. The geographic location and plenty of natural resources in light of the small population have always been real obstacles for the GCC leaders. Furthermore, the decline of Iraq as a major regional force tipped the balance of power in favor of the huge Iranian population and capabilities, leading to an urgent need to build up a national and joint military power represented by the Peninsula Shield Force in 1982 to protect the GCC members against any military threat.
The Gulf Military Force 2016
The GCC countries sought to achieve a regional balance of power through two strategies; utilization of their own capabilities and economic resources to improve their national military power, and conducting external alliances to maintain their homeland security, especially with the United States of America. Nevertheless, the Obama Administration has adopted new policies toward the GCC countries and the Middle East in general; consequently, the GCC countries took rapid steps and decided to count on their own collective security politically and economically. This study accurately compares the military force of the GCC countries and Iran, their regional rival,
1. Kingdom of Saudi Arabia:
a. Ranked as 24 out of 126
b. Active frontline Personnel: 235,000
c. Active Reserve Personnel: 25,000
d. Tanks: 1210
e. Armored Fighting Vehicles (AFVs): 5472
f. Portable Artillery: 425
g. Towed-Artillery: 432
h. Multiple-Launch Rocket Systems [MLRSs]: 322
i. Aircraft:722
j. Fighters/Interceptors: 245
k. Fixed-Wing Attack Aircraft: 245
l. Transport Aircraft: 213
m. Trainer Aircraft: 213
n. Helicopters: 204
o. Attack Helicopter: 22
p. Total Naval Ships: 55
q. Frigates: 5
r. Corvettes: 4
s. Coastal Defense Craft: 39
t. Mine Warfare: 3 [1]
The most Saudi lethal weapons include Boeing F-15 Eagle, Typhoon Air fighter, Boeing Chopper AH-64D Apache, M1A25 Abrams Tank, Al-Riyadh Frigate that is equipped with vertical launch systems and carries 15 twenty-mile range ground to air and 50,000 feet altitude Aster missiles and carries eight MBDA Exocet MM40 Block II Anti-ship Missiles.
2. Kuwait
a. Ranked as 78 out of 126
b. Active frontline Personnel: 15,500
c. Active Reserve Personnel: 31,000
d. Tanks: 368
e. Armored Fighting Vehicles (AFVs): 861
f. Portable Artillery: 98
g. Multiple-Launch Rocket Systems (MLRSs): 27
h. Aircraft:106
i. Fighters/Interceptors: 27
j. Fixed-Wing Attack Aircraft: 27
k. Transport Aircraft: 31
l. Trainer Aircraft: 29
m. Helicopters: 42
n. Attack Helicopter: 16
o. Total Naval Ships: 38
p. Coastal Defense Craft: 106 [2]
Kuwait does not have any military industry but has a huge military budget that positively reflects on its armed forces that are smaller in size but effective in power.
3. Bahrain
a. Ranked as 91 out of 126
b. Active frontline Personnel: 15,000
c. Active Reserve Personnel: 112,000
d. Tanks: 180
e. Armored Fighting Vehicles (AFVs): 277
f. Portable Artillery: 13
g. Towed-Artillery: 26
h. Multiple-Launch Rocket Systems [MLRSs]: 9
i. Aircraft: 104
j. Fighters/Interceptors: 25
k. Fixed-Wing Attack Aircraft: 25
l. Transport Aircraft: 28
m. Trainer Aircraft: 00
n. Helicopters: 62
o. Attack Helicopter: 22
p. Total Naval Ships: 39
q. Frigates: 1
r. Coastal Defense Craft: 25 [3]
4. Qatar
a. Ranked as 93 out of 126
b. Active frontline Personnel: 12,000
c. Tanks: 92
d. Armored Fighting Vehicles (AFVs): 464
e. Portable Artillery: 24
f. Towed-Artillery: 12
g. Multiple-Launch Rocket Systems (MLRSs): 21
h. Aircraft:86
i. Fighters/Interceptors: 9
j. Fixed-Wing Attack Aircraft: 15
k. Transport Aircraft: 18
l. Trainer Aircraft: 18
m. Helicopters: 45
n. Total Naval Ships: 80
o. Coastal Defense Craft: 69 [4]
The Qatari soldiers are highly trained and efficient, and all Qatari Armed Forces went through many significant developments and changes.
5. Oman
a. Ranked as 77 out of 126
b. Active frontline Personnel: 72,000
c. Active Reserve Personnel: 20,000
d. Tanks: 191
e. Armored Fighting Vehicles (AFVs): 950
f. Portable Artillery: 15
g. Towed-Artillery: 168
h. Multiple-Launch Rocket Systems (MLRSs): 12
i. Aircraft:109
j. Fighters/Interceptors: 17
k. Fixed-Wing Attack Aircraft: 27
l. Transport Aircraft: 55
m. Trainer Aircraft: 22
n. Helicopters: 45
o. Total Naval Ships: 16
p. Corvettes: 5
q. Coastal Defense Craft: 8
r. Mine Warfare: 0 [5]
6. The United Arab Emirates
a. Ranked as 58 out of 126
b. Active frontline Personnel: 65,000
c. Tanks: 545
d. Armored Fighting Vehicles (AFVs): 2204
e. Portable Artillery: 177
f. Towed-Artillery: 105
g. Multiple-Launch Rocket Systems (MLRSs): 54
h. Aircraft: 515
i. Fighters/Interceptors: 96
j. Fixed-Wing Attack Aircraft: 209
k. Transport Aircraft: 160
l. Trainer Aircraft: 160
m. Helicopters: 199
n. Attack Helicopter: 30
o. Total Naval Ships: 75
p. Corvettes: 2
q. Coastal Defense Craft: 12
r. Mine Warfare: 2 [6]
In the recent years, the UAE has signed many record deals to update its military forces, making it one of the leading countries in their military expenditures.
The military balance between the GCC countries and Iran- the biggest challenge for the GCC countries- does not favor Iran or justify its arrogance and extremism. On the contrary, the comparison of the military power of the GCC countries with that of Washington’s military partners in Europe and Asia shows that the GCC countries occupy a good rank when compared as a bloc with some US allies such as Turkey, Britain, Australia, South Korea, Taiwan, and Germany [7].
The table below explains the military balance between the GCC countries and Iran [2014-2015] [8]


We notice that the GCC countries outweigh Iran in Navy and Air Force. They also have complete Navy and Air supremacy over Yemen and the torn out Iraqi army.
The GCC Countries’ Reactions toward the regional developments
The GCC countries are located in a fractious and unstable region punctuated by unusually high number of full-scale, interstate and intra-state clashes during the last three decades resulted from regional contradictions. Nevertheless, the GCC countries have succeeded in maintaining political stability- although relatively fragile- and shied away from the tense state that is hijacking the entire region due to successful economic and political strategies, and international military alliances and exercises.
♦ The Gulf Alliances
The GCC countries have been part of the international alliance led by the US against the ISIS since September 2014. They were the first to ask for confronting this threat through the call of late King Abdullah Bin Abdul-Aziz when he warned the West of this group [9]. The Gulf States also supported the moderate military alliances fighting the arrogance of the Syrian regime and considered the backbone of the Arab coalition formed to restore the Yemeni legitimate government and stop the Houthi-Saleh oppressors. Furthermore, most GCC countries are partners of Istanbul initiative and members of the International Marine Corps.
Military Exercises
Military exercises mean the employment of military resources in training for military operations, either exploring the effects of warfare or testing strategies without actual combat. They aim to analyze all scenarios on the battlefield and make plans and solutions for any potential obstruction. In the Mid-February 2016, the Saudi and Turkish Air Forces conducted joint military exercises for five days. Six Saudi fighter airplanes participated in a military exercise on the Turkish Incirlik Air Base sto confront the ISIS within the international alliance [10]. Moreover, Ra’d AlShamal exercises were conducted for 18 days at the beginning of March 2016, which included all military blocs, including the Peninsula Shield Corps, the International Coalition, the Islamic Military Coalition, and the Joint Arab Corps. More than 350 thousand soldiers, 2500 airplanes including 500 attack Helicopters, and 20 thousand tanks participated in the exercise, which was the second biggest military buildup after the Dessert Storm in 1991, and focused on dealing with the paramilitary corps and terrorist groups. The exercise showed high coordination capabilities although differences in languages, military equipment, and operating systems. The GCC countries also proved they were an important partner in ensuring the security of the Middle East [11]. In March 2016 the UAE participated with the Egyptian and US navies in a military exercise in the Red Sea called the Eagle Salute 2016 that included Joint Marine combat and surveillance operations. In April 2016, Kuwait held Anti- Marine Mines exercises with the US Fifth Fleet and held Yarmouk 2 joint Air Force exercise with Egypt.
The Arab Spring exercises ended in the Gulf region but did not end abroad. In mid-August 2016 Saudi Arabia and the UAE participated in the US Red Flag Air Force exercise, which is an advanced air combat exercise, lasted for two weeks and focused on intercepting the Russian-made S300 Iranian missile. The Kuwaiti Navy also held the Autumn Exercise in September 2016 with US naval ships at which the Kuwaiti Navy showed high efficiency in restraining the harassment of the Iranian boats inside the exercise area [12]. Moreover, the Saudi Special Forces held Santol military exercise with France in October 2016 that focused on the Special Forces operations and relive real-life like conditions.
The Bahraini Defense Forces and the Saudi Eastern Fleet conducted the joint exercise Jisr17 that included a number of Navy Ships, Backup Boats, Choppers, and Combat Groups. The exercise aimed at achieving full coordination and cooperation between both sides on the naval weaponry. During the same month, the Saudi Navy conducted Gulf Shield-1 exercise in the Arabian Gulf, the Arabian Sea, and Hormuz Strait. This was the biggest exercise for the Saudi Navy aimed at increasing combat readiness and included Ground and Air combat, Electronic and Mines Warfare, Marine Corps operations, Naval Special Security Forces, and Live Ammo. This exercise received hostile statements from the Iranian Revolutionary Guards; although, it was a smart step to move battles outside the Saudi lands toward the Iranian waters if not inside its lands, which is a constant progress of the Saudi military decisiveness. Iran worried about re-conducting the exercise with wider participation by the other GCC countries, which would tip the military balance in favor of the GCC countries as documented by the site. Iran has 289 ships while the GCC countries have 258 ships, but the Saudi Ghost Frigates overweight the old-fashioned Iranian Frigates that go back to the seventies of last century and do not have an air force cover, which makes them risk outside their territorial waters. In addition to that, the Saudi Navy is the third strongest in the Middle East after Turkey and Israel. Iran fears that the Saudi Navy might enter the Blue-Water Navy stage because of its ability to maneuver away from its bases and its swift reaction toward regional crises [13].
On October 17 Qatar held Nasr 2016 military exercise in three stages. The first one was for the National Service troops on administrative preparations, the second stage included target practice, and the last on live fire practice using tanks, infantry, artillery, and backup guns.
All in all, the aforementioned exercises showed the intensity of the GCC countries activities in the show of power, increasing combat readiness, and conveying the messages of dealing with all challenges.
Military Challenges
In the absence of strategic balance and absolute sovereignty, the regional unrest and recurrent developments will definitely continue to create new challenges for the GCC countries. Following are some of the challenges that threaten the GCC countries’ political positions, and hold back their regional role to ground zero all the way down to negativity,
» Constant Iranian Interference
The Iranian regime’s interference in the GCC countries’ internal affairs has openly taken unprecedented dimensions. Its arrogance has also gone too far through intrusion in Iraq, Lebanon, Yemen, and Syria, which made the GCC leaders change their strategies from direct confrontation with Iran to deterrence of its expansionist trend. The GCC countries have taken decisive actions in improving their military power and utilizing state of the art technologies to contain the threat posed by Iran and its proxies in the region [14]. Some of these threats are the non-stop military exercises conducted by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards in the Arabian Gulf driven by the Iranian regime’s provoking policy, the display of its new weapons and equipment, and the constant missile tests to cover up the weakness of its air force. Most importantly, Iran has supplied the Iraqi Public Mobilization Forces, Yemeni Houthis, and Assad forces in Syria with traditional missiles and weapons, which escalate tension in the whole region. Furthermore, the Iranian Nuclear Program stands as a threat to the strategic balance of power at both banks of the Gulf, which means expansion of the Iranian interference, sovereignty, and influence.
» Threat of the Hybrid Military Structures
The hybrid military structures like the ISIS, the Yemeni Houthiss, and the Iraqi Public Mobilization Forces have adopted extremism and terrorism as a motor for their movements; some GCC countries were exposed to terrorist attacks by the ISIS that targeted their stability; the Public Mobilization Forces have ruined all aspects of life in Iraq under sectarian calls targeting the Sunni structure in Iraq and threatening the whole Gulf region through targeting their national unity and social structure; and Houthisss were a pain in the neck for the GCC countries after overthrowing the legal government and taking over Yemen, aiming at continuing their march in the whole region full of sectarian hatred, but fortunately, was toppled by the decisive storm.
» Threats of Regional Conflicts
The GCC countries are located in a region that is fractious, unstable, and rife with conflicts. In Syria, civil war erupted between the opposition and the Russian-Iranian backed regime. Russia sought to show its force as a super power, regain its cold war status, and bring Moscow back to the forefront of the international scenery. It has also turned Syria into a battlesfield and firing range for the Russian weaponry with the absence of an American role.
In Iraq, the unprofessional men of the green zone follow the directives of the Iranian General Qassem Sulaimani, commander of Quds Division. Tehran has promoted Suleimani as a hero and savior of Iraq and the Government of Haidar Al-Abadi from the ISIS in a metaphysical and arrogant behavior to enhance the Iranian spirit, which was supported by Hadi Al-Asmir commander of the Iraqi Public Mobilization Forces [15].
In Yemen,s the GCC countries are involved in a big war and seem to be obliged to play all their papers to win the Decisive Storm against the Iranian proxies in Yemen.
The GCC Military Power and the Current and Potential Threats
In order to advance the GCC military power to the threat level and face the various challenges, they have to take into account the following procedures,
1. Readiness
The GCC countries have to take certain procedures to defend the economic zones, territorial waters, ports, and protect their infrastructure by developing joint early-warning systems and integrated missile shield. They should also establish a unified command, an academy for strategic studies, joint defense council, unified navy operational center, and unifying the combat ideology structure.
2. Human resources
The GCC countries need a revolution in terms of support, compensation, and reserve forces. They should qualify big numbers of professional non-commissioned officers to carry out certain duties assigned to officers. NCOs can play a vital role; it is important to prepare them and improve their combat capabilities to lead smaller units on the battlefield and allow officers to handle their command and staff duties. Furthermore, regional challenges and threats force the GCC countries to adopt the military draft system to support their armies with national young individuals who will be able to tackle state of the art weapons and technologies that cannot be handled by volunteers.
3. Weaponry
There has to be an incorporated process for the GCC countries’ armed forces to purchase weapons and ammo. They have to improve the Gulf Military Industrial Complex and count on their own capabilities backed up by the vast amounts of funds and good relationship with the military manufacturers. Moreover, the unrest and crises in the regional military manufacturers like Egypt, Iraq, and Syria have paved the way for the GCC countries to improve their MIC since they have moved from the stage of threats to that of direct combat. In fact, the GCC countries should count on themselves and benefit from their own experiences such as the Saudi General Commission for Military Industries that was established in1982, and the UAE International Defense Exhibition [IDEX] in Abu Dhabi that has turned into a theater to display the UAE military industry.
All in all, we can confidently say that the GCC countries’ military power on the national level or within the Gulf joint military force has a high level of readiness and ability to confront any threat against the GCC countries’ security and stability.

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Dr. Zafir Mohammad Alajami
Dr. Zafir Mohammad Alajami
Executive Manager of AGCG