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United Arab Emirates

Military Capabilities of the Persian Gulf States

During the decade after the outbreak of the Iran-Iraq War, all the gulf states set out to strengthen their armed forces by converting to the most modern weapons they could obtain and assimilate. By 1993 each state had at least a modest inventory of tanks and other armored equipment, air defense missiles, combat aircraft, armed helicopters, and missile-armed naval craft with which to deter an intruder. Kuwait is less prepared than the others, not having recovered from the losses it suffered in personnel and equipment during the Persian Gulf War. A fundamental constraint for all the gulf states has been the limited pool of qualified manpower and, in most countries, the problem of attracting recruits when better employment opportunities exist in the civilian sector. The emphasis on advanced weaponry is part of an effort to minimize the need for personnel. As stated by a senior Kuwaiti officer, the object is to obtain the best equipment technologically, "easy to maintain, understand, and operate . . . the greatest firepower for the smallest human effort." But integrating modern weapons into the gulf armies and ensuring their effective operation create other problems. Such problems include the necessity of continued reliance on foreign officers and foreign maintenance and training staffs at a time when all gulf states are trying to achieve greater self-sufficiency. Dependence on foreign personnel, moreover, implies a degree of loyalty and trustworthiness that may not be forthcoming in times of crisis.

Although in every case the gulf armies are much larger than the air forces and navies, the ground forces have traditionally been oriented toward counterinsurgency actions and the protection of the ruling families. Most of the armies are organized into one or more combat brigades; actual fighting strengths are generally lower than the brigade structure implies. Except for the officers and men who were briefly exposed to modern military operations during the Persian Gulf War--and in the late 1960s and first half of the 1970s during Oman's war with Dhofari guerrillas and their supporters in the PDRY--most have not faced actual combat situations.

In recognition of the great strategic importance of their air and sea defenses, the gulf states have all introduced modern combat aircraft and air defense missile systems, such as the United States Hawk surface-to-air missile (SAM). Several of the states have in their inventories or on order attack helicopters to help protect their oil facilities and oil drilling platforms in the gulf. All the gulf states have communications, control, and warning systems for the effective use of their fighter aircraft and antiaircraft missiles. But each air force is small, and, unless integrated with others, the overall effectiveness of the GCC in air defense is marginal. In spite of the attention the problem has received, there is no common network linking all air defense squadrons and SAMs to the Saudi Arabian air defense system and to the Saudi airborne warning and control system (AWACS) aircraft. Technical difficulties, including the incompatibility of national communications systems and the reluctance to turn control of national air defense over to a unified command structure, account for this weakness.

Fast-missile attack craft acquired by all of the gulf navies with small but well-trained crews could inflict damaging blows to heavier fleets and discourage hostile amphibious operations. The sixty-two-meter corvettes belonging to Bahrain and the UAE are the largest vessels among the gulf navies. As the tanker war demonstrated, the navies lack minesweeping capability, and their shipboard defense weapons against air attack are also weak. Only Oman has available larger amphibious transports to convey troops and vehicles for defending islands or remote coastal areas.

Defense expenditures of the gulf states are among the highest in the world relative to population. According to an analysis covering 1989, prepared by the United States Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, Qatar recorded the highest per capita military expenditures of any country in the world, followed by Israel and the United States. Oman ranked fourth and Kuwait sixth. The UAE was eleventh highest; Bahrain, listed in twentyseventh place worldwide, had the lowest outlays relatively of the gulf states. Military spending as a percentage of central government expenditures also is high, amounting to more than 40 percent in Oman and the UAE, for example. In contrast, military spending in Bahrain is 13 percent of central government expenditure. Military expenditures as a percentage of the gross national product (GNP--see Glossary) are more moderate except for Oman, whose military outlays were more than 20 percent of GNP in 1989. Force ratios are also high in Oman and the UAE; both countries had about twenty men in uniform per 1,000 population in 1989. Their respective rankings were eleventh and twelfth highest in the world. Bahrain and Kuwait had manpower levels of about ten per 1,000 population, whereas the level for Qatar was fifteen per 1,000 in 1989.

In spite of the small personnel pools and the desire of all the gulf governments to train nationals to replace foreigners as quickly as possible, constraints found in traditional Islamic societies prevent the widespread recruitment of women to serve in the armed forces. Oman and Bahrain have allowed a few women to enlist. They receive combat-style training and learn how to operate small arms. In Bahrain, however, almost all the women have been assigned to hospital staffs. In 1990 the UAE introduced a five-month training course for female recruits with the assistance of a team of female soldiers from the United States. About 1,200 women applied; only seventy-four were accepted. Two top members of the first class were selected to continue with officer training at the Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst, in Britain. The other graduates of the first class were assigned as bodyguards of female members of the ruling families and as specialists in such fields as military intelligence.

Before the Persian Gulf War, some women served in support departments of the Kuwaiti armed forces, including engineering, military establishments, moral guidance, and public relations. In July 1991, noting that a large number of women had volunteered for service in the postwar military, the minister of defense said that some would be accepted for a training period of three to six months but would initially be unsalaried. A role would then be found for them. The minister cautioned that acceptance by Kuwaiti society was essential for the government to move ahead with this plan.

Data as of January 1993

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