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Omani Royal Armed Forces (RAF)

The Sultans Armed Forces (SAF) play an essential role in defending the nation. In developing the SAF and the Royal Guard of Oman (RGO),the Sultanate focused its attention on intensive training rather than the establishment of an intensive arms program, recognizing that highly trained manpower was its most important defence asset. The three main arms of the Sultans Armed Forces(SAF) the Royal Army of Oman (RAO), the Royal Air Force of Oman (RAFO) and the Royal Navy of Oman(RNO), along with the Royal Guard of Oman (RGO), form a modern, well organized and well equipped fighting force that boasts a full range of integrated modern weaponry. All its bases are linked by a sophisticated command and control system.

The Omani Armed Forces are charged with defending the country, protecting the monarchy, and maintaining internal security. Sultan Qaboos serves as the Prime Minister, Defense Minister, Supreme Commander, and Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces. He was trained at the British Royal Military Academy and served as a junior officer in the British Army. This background, when combined with subsequent intensive years of force development and war against the Dhofar insurgency, closely identifies Sultan Qaboos with the armed forces. Out of the population's 350,000 males between the ages of 15 and 49 years of age, roughly 200,000 are fit for military service Sultan Qabus ibn Said retained for himself the positions of prime minister and minister of defense. The sultan's uncle, Fahar ibn Taimur Al Said, served as deputy prime minister for security and defense. Between 1970 and 1987, the armed forces commander, as well as the heads of the air force and navy, were British generals and admirals on loan.

As of early 1993, the chief of staff and the three service commanders were Omanis. As of 1992, personnel strength of the Royal Armed Forces (as they were renamed--RAF) had reached about 35,700, including 6,000 royal household troops--a 4,500 Royal Guard of Oman (RGO) brigade, two Special Forces regiments totaling 700 trained by British air commandos, and 800 miscellaneous other personnel--and foreign personnel, who are believed to number about 3,700.

After 1970 the Sultan's Armed Forces (SAF; later renamed the Royal Armed Forces) has became one of the more modern and better trained fighting forces among the Arab gulf states. Recognizing its strategic importance guarding the Strait of Hormuz (through which nearly one-fifth of the world's oil transited) and the Gulf of Oman, the sultanate has struggled to maintain a high degree of military preparedness in spite of its limited financial means. Its defense budget in 1992 was estimated at US$1.7 billion, exclusive of the GCC subsidy shared with Bahrain. It has periodically tested the capabilities of its armed forces by engaging in joint exercises with Western powers, particularly in regular exercises with British forces. Oman has taken the initiative in efforts to strengthen regional collective security through the GCC. At the conclusion of the Persian Gulf War, it proposed the development of a GCC regional security force of 100,000 personnel.

For many years after the defeat of the Dhofar insurgents, Oman regarded its southern border with the PDRY as the most likely source of future conflict. The PDRY provided the Dhofari rebels with supplies, training camps, and refuge from attacks. Omani ground and air strength was concentrated at Salalah, Thamarit, and other towns near the PDRY border. The threat of PFLO dissident activity supported by the PDRY or border operations against Oman declined after reconciliation with the PDRY, marked by the exchange of ambassadors in 1987.

Apart from its military role, the SAF carried out a variety of civil action projects that, particularly in Dhofar, were an important means of gaining the allegiance of the people. Military engineers assisted road construction in mountain areas. The air force carried out supply operations and provided medical service to remote areas. The navy performed similar duties along Oman's long coastline. The navy also patrolled the sultanate's territorial waters and the 370-kilometer Exclusive Economic Zone to deter smuggling and illegal fishing.


As a regional commercial power in the nineteenth century, Oman held territories on the island of Zanzibar off the coast of East Africa, in Mombasa along the coast of East Africa, and until 1958 in Gwadar (in present-day Pakistan) on the coast of the Arabian Sea. When its East African possessions were lost, Oman withdrew into isolationism in the southeast corner of the Arabian Peninsula. Another of the gulf states with long-standing ties to the British, Oman became important in the British-French rivalry at the end of the eighteenth century, when Napoleonic France challenged the British Empire for control of the trade routes to the East. Although nominally a fully independent sultanate, Oman enjoyed the protection of the empire without being, de jure, in the category of a colony or a protected state. With its external defenses guaranteed and its overseas territories lost, the sultanate had no need for armed forces other than mercenaries to safeguard the personal position of the sultan.

In 1952, when the Saudis occupied Omani territory near the Al Buraymi Oasis, a British-led force from the Trucial Coast fought the incursion and retook the territory for the sultan. Later in the same decade, the sultan again called on British troops to aid in putting down a rebellion led by the former imam (see Glossary) of Oman, who attempted to establish a separate state free of rule from Muscat. British ground and air forces dispatched to aid the Muscat and Oman Field Force succeeded in overcoming the rebels in early 1959. Nevertheless, instead of a minor intertribal affair in Oman's hinterland, the rebellion became an international incident, attracting wide sympathy and support among members of the League of Arab States (Arab League) and the UN.

An agreement between Sultan Said ibn Taimur Al Said and the British government in 1958 led to the creation of the Sultan's Armed Forces (SAF) and the promise of British assistance in military development. The agreement included the detailing of British officers and confirmed the existing rights of Britain's Royal Air Force to use facilities at Salalah in Dhofar region and at Masirah, an island off the Omani coast in the Arabian Sea.

Sultan Said ibn Taimur was ultraconservative and opposed to change of any kind. Kindled by Arab nationalism, a rebellion broke out in 1964 in Dhofar, the most backward and exploited area of Oman. Although begun as a tribal separatist movement against a reactionary ruler, the rebellion was backed by leftist elements in the PDRY. Its original aim was the overthrow of Said ibn Taimur, but, by 1967, under the name of the Popular Front for the Liberation of the Occupied Arabian Gulf--which in 1974 was changed to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Oman (PFLO)-- it adopted much wider goals. Supported by the Soviet Union through the PDRY, it hoped to spread revolution throughout the conservative regimes of the Arabian Peninsula.

Said ibn Taimur's reprisals against the Dhofari people tended to drive them into the rebel camp. In 1970, as the Dhofari guerrilla attacks expanded, Said ibn Taimur's son, Qabus ibn Said Al Said, replaced his father in a coup carried out with the assistance of British officers. Qabus ibn Said, a Sandhurst graduate and veteran of British army service, began a program to modernize the country and to develop the armed forces. In addition to British troops and advisers, the new sultan was assisted by troops sent by the shah of Iran. Aid also came from India, Jordan, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and the Trucial Coast, all interested in ensuring that Oman did not become a "people's republic." An Iranian brigade, along with artillery and helicopters, arrived in Dhofar in 1973. After the arrival of the Iranians, the combined forces consolidated their positions on the coastal plain and moved against the guerrillas' mountain stronghold. By stages, the Omanis and Iranians gradually subdued the guerrilla forces, pressing their remnants closer and closer to the PDRY border. In December 1975, having driven the PFLO from Omani territory, the sultan declared that the war had been won. Total Omani, British, and Iranian casualties during the final two-and-one-half years of the conflict were about 500.

Sultan Qaboos aspired to build an armed force which would embrace a deterrent perspective, a tool which would meet Omans defence needs and could rally together. The Sultans Armed Forces was developed and built up with combat-ready men, but a fine balance was made in funding the forces, so that, the tank [should] not be at the cost of a loaf. His Majesty, the Supreme Commander, has insisted that the various components of the Armed Forces are maintained at a maximum level of vigilance, capability and combat readiness. In order for this to happen, it was vital to provide the infrastructure and installations of training. These included military training establishments from schools and centres for personnel training, to military colleges such as the Sultan Qaboos Military College and the Officer/Cadet Training School, to the Command and Staff College which supplies officers to occupy command posts in the various branches of the Army. At the same time, it was necessary to upgrade the administrative and technical support systems within the Army in order to keep pace with its expansion.

With its extensive facilities and nationwide presence, the SAF is well placed to work with the different government departments working to promote development and prosperity for Oman and its citizens. It also trains civilians in navigation, communications, administration and other skills, while its military education programme gives school students a grounding in the principles and values of military life. The armed forces build roads to the most remote mountain and desert regions, transport people, provisions and water to otherwise inaccessible areas and - in co-operation with other competent authorities - provide the people living in those areas with health services. Their other duties include search and rescue operations at sea and the prevention of illegal immigration. Retired SAF personnel frequently contribute their valuable experience to the Sultanate's continued development by setting up their own businesses or finding employment in the private sector.

Exercise "Saif Sareea" II (Swift Sword II) took place in the Sultanate of Oman during September and October 2001, and constituted the largest deployment undertaken by the UK Ministry of Defence (the Department) since the Gulf War in 1991. The deployment involved some 22,500 personnel, 6,500 vehicles and trailers, 93 aircraft of all types and 21 naval vessels. The Exercise was part of the Department's joint exercise program and was designed to demonstrate the concept of the Joint Rapid Reaction Forces. It also provided an opportunity to operate with the Armed Forces of a friendly nation, and to conduct unit and formation level training in theater.

The Department successfully demonstrated key elements of the Joint Rapid Reaction Forces concept. A medium-scale joint task force was generated and projected over a distance of 5,000 miles. While communications were stretched in the austere environment, the command and control structure deployed on the Exercise worked. Logistic support was demonstrated with personnel and equipment being successfully moved to, from, and around a large theatre of operations. Overall, the Exercise has shown that the United Kingdom is capable of mounting a balanced, coherent force over a strategic distance. Among its allies, the United Kingdom is the only country, other than the United States, that has demonstrated this.

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Page last modified: 11-01-2013 17:19:58 ZULU