With a modest military of about 12,000 men, what is the real military strength of Qatar in an unfortunate event of war?
With growing instability in the region and the threat of ISIS relocating into neighboring countries after suffering huge losses in both Syria and Iraq, the military strength of Qatar is questioned due to its small military. This raises the question: how well protected is Qatar from threats?
Qatar’s military is the second smallest in the Middle East, with only around 12,000 active military personnel in service. They are divided over the three main branches of the military, the army, the navy and the air force, and work within a budget of $1.9 billion. However, the national defense budget exceeds the military operational budget, with the country having spent more than $3.8 billion on arms to upgrade their weapon systems in 2015, a number expected to reach $4.4 billion by the end of 2016.
In recent years, the government has been working towards enhancing the military strength of Qatar through mandatory national service laws, foreign cooperation and weaponry upgrades.
In 2014, the Emir signed a mandatory national service act that makes it compulsory for every man between 18 and 35 to enroll and train with the country’s military for at least 3 months. The initiative was launched to encourage more of the half a million people fit for service in Qatar to join the army, which is made up of about 11,500 men, only 30% of whom are Qatari nationals and the rest drafted from more than 20 nationalities.
Yet, Qatar’s security is not completely in their own hands. The country is part of the collective defense strategy of the Gulf Cooperation Council, made up of the military cooperation of the GCC’s six member states, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Emirates, Oman and Qatar.
In addition, Qatar’s Al Udeid Air Base homes the largest US military base in the Middle East, with an estimate of 10,000 stationed personnel. The base also hosts a significant number of the United Kingdom’s Royal Air Force. And in April 2016, it was announced that Turkey opened its first foreign military base in the Middle East in Qatar, in joint efforts to counter what officials called “the same threats”, and is estimated to host some 3,000 troops.
The intensified needs to advance the military strength of Qatar has pushed the country to invest in more advanced weaponry and defense systems.
When the biennial Qatari defense conference concluded last March, Qatar had agreed to spend around $9 billion over the coming years on items such as new attack boats, drones, artillery systems and missiles.
The majority of the budget accounts for the purchase of 24 French Rafale fighter jets, costing around $7.4 billion. The remaining funds are spread over items such as $700 million-worth of coastal barrier systems along with $6.4 million worth of missiles for the Emiri Naval Forces from the European firm MBDA, $126 million on drone integration systems from the US, $100 million on German-made drones, and $55 million on a long-distance satellite ground imaging station from Airbus, as well as a variety of military attack and defense systems, and military air, ground and maritime vehicles.
According to Strategic Defense Intelligence, Qatar’s military expenses are expected to grow an estimated 12.2% over the next five years, reaching $7 billion in 2020.