The multilingual contents of the site are the result of an automatic translation.


Other sources

Saut de ligne
Saut de ligne

Omani security forces: a pillar of the national renaissance

Earth Thought Notebooks
History & strategy
Saut de ligne
Saut de ligne

The security forces have become an essential component of Omani society. Since coming to power in 1970, Sultan Qaboos has worked to modernize the armed forces and the police, which have become a showcase for the Omani renaissance, a term that refers to the country's overall modernization effort over the past 45 years. The author of this article, who is currently on a traineeship in the Sultanate, describes this renaissance.

The recent political history of the Sultanate of Oman is marked by the accession to power of Qaboos Ben Said on 23 July 1970. This event marks the beginning of a national renaissance embodied by the figure of the new sultan. Aware of the backwardness of Omani society at the time he took office, the Sultan decided to devote his reign to the modernization of the country. He then took advantage of oil resources to build, at a forced march, infrastructure and institutions worthy of a modern State. The security forces thus became an important pillar in this general process of modernization.

These security forces were immediately called upon to quell the rebellion that had been developing in the south of the country since the mid-1960s. In the early 1970s, the Omanis were not alone in restoring stability in the breakaway province of Dhofar, which borders Yemen. They were supported by Iran, which sent large numbers of troops to fight alongside the loyalist forces. They are also supported by the British, who are providing guidance and advice.

The Sultan's dynasty is closely linked to the United Kingdom, which has enjoyed significant influence in the region for several centuries. Born in 1940, the future sovereign was sent there at the age of 16 to complete his education. At the age of 20, he joined the military academy of Sandhurst, then served for a year in Germany in the Scottish rifles regiment. When Sultan Qaboos came to power, he relied on the British to build modern security forces. This support gradually diminished as the security forces gained experience and autonomy.

The Sultan has succeeded in making these forces a pillar of the national renaissance that he has set in motion.

These security forces enjoy a positive image in Omani society, which sees them as a symbol of the nation's development and not as the private army of an autocrat. They are very diverse and are linked to the nation through the figure of the Sultan, and over the years they have become a modern tool capable of carrying out a wide variety of missions.

The good image of the security forces in Omani society

Omanis are proud of their security forces, which reflect the country's policy of modernization. They are not seen as instruments of autocratic power, but as forces in the service of the nation. Even the police forces enjoy a positive image. There are several reasons for this good image:

  • First of all, the security forces are numerous in proportion to the demography of the country. There are about 70,000 security forces for a population of three million nationals, plus 1,700,000 foreign residents who have come to work in the country. Initial recruitment is carried out in all the country's provinces and the "footprint" of the security forces is fairly homogeneous, since their bases are evenly distributed over an area 40% the size of France. Omani families thus have a close relationship with the security forces, which are part of their daily lives.
  • Secondly, the action of the security forces is regularly mentioned in the Omani media. These media, over which the State exercises oversight through the Ministry of Information, devote a large part of their programmes to reporting on the activities of the security forces. Newspaper articles very regularly mention events such as a recruitment campaign, or a visit by an authority to a military base, or the beginning of a training session. Media coverage is also important in the broadcast media. The State has a general information policy whose main objectives are "the dissemination of the values of national unity and the presentation of government action in all sectors" [1].
  • Finally, these forces are well organized and well equipped. This organization is reflected in the good performance of the security forces, both in terms of appearance and attitude. Both the military and the police are attentive to the image they convey, and serve with clean equipment that is in good condition. The compounds from which they operate are also carefully maintained. The Omani forces were very effective when they paraded, particularly in military schools. These appearance-related elements contribute to the good reputation of the Omani security forces in society.

The Omani armed forces, which make up the largest part of the security forces, are not employment forces, as the Sultanate has a policy of neutrality that prevents it from taking part in a coalition such as the one currently operating in Yemen and led by Saudi Arabia. On the other hand, the armed forces are perceived as forces of proximity, protection forces from the heart of the nation. In this sense, they play an important social role.

Diverse security forces, but linked to the nation embodied by the figure of the Sultan

Sultan Qaboos is the head of the armies. He is assisted by a minister, but the minister does not have significant power. His name is not "Minister of Defence", but "Minister responsible for military affairs". The semantic nuance is there to indicate that the minister's function is limited to the management of day-to-day affairs. The real decision-maker is the sultan, to whom the chiefs of staff owe their promotion.

The sultan is personally protected by a royal guard, which has independence in terms of budget and command. The three-star general who commands this corps is accountable only to the sultan. The units of the Royal Guard are responsible for all missions related to the protection of the Sultan, particularly during his travels. These units are large in size and consist of five infantry battalions, equipped mainly with armoured front vehicles, and one support battalion, equipped mainly with light armoured and anti-aircraft means.

Police forces are another specific component of the security forces, as they are in direct contact with the population and their presence is particularly visible. This police force is well trained and its units are present throughout the country. Its main task of maintaining law and order is complemented by specific missions such as missions to protect authorities.

Within the armed forces proper, the land forces have a dominant position and are in a clear numerical majority (70% of the total number of personnel). They are made up of army units, conventional and border guard corps as well as the special forces corps, which is composed almost exclusively of Omanis from the province of Dhofar. This specific composition of the special forces is linked to the aftermath of the civil war, when the Sultan decided to reward the Dhofar tribes that had joined him by granting them access to this elite corps. In general, the land forces are well equipped and well trained.

The air force and the navy complete the picture of the armed forces. Despite its shared strategic position with Iran at the gateway to the Strait of Hormuz, the Sultanate of Oman does not have a large navy. Its most important vessels are British-made corvettes, equipped in particular with French equipment such as the Exocet missile or part of the on-board electronics. The Omani navy is fairly sophisticated and has, for example, a hydrographic service capable of producing marine cartography. The air force is not digitally consistent either, but its cadres are of a good standard and its aircraft are efficient.

These very diverse forces are loyal to the Sultan, who enjoys broad support in society as the embodiment of a nation committed to development. They are the product of the modernization process driven by the Head of State, who initially drew on British expertise to create a modern defence tool. They are nevertheless original, even paradoxical, because the very different bodies that make them up are not jealous of each other and form a complex and coherent whole.

Modern security forces capable of carrying out a wide variety of missions

The first asset of the Omani security forces is probably training. The Sultan regularly reminds us in his speeches that human resources are the country's primary resource, and that it must be developed through training. Special attention has thus been paid to the establishment of schools, universities and institutes of all types, so as to provide the country with competent cadres. Young Omanis are also invited to complete their training by doing part of their studies abroad.

This training policy, driven by the Omani renaissance, covers the civilian world and the military sphere in the broadest sense. It is for this reason that the security forces have been provided with high-quality initial training schools and technical schools. In addition, numerous exchange programmes have been set up with other countries, and many senior members of the security forces, at a wide range of levels of responsibility and employment, undertake professional internships abroad.

When necessary, the Sultanate makes use of foreign expertise, particularly British expertise, to enhance the quality of the management team. However, the aim remains to make increasing use of Omani trainers. This objective is part of a more general policy known as "Omanization", which consists of gradually replacing foreign labour, whether specialized or not, with national labour. The equipment used for training is modern and its maintenance is very often supervised by foreign technicians. The simulators used, whether by the air force, navy or army schools, are efficient and in line with the characteristics and use of the equipment provided in the units.

The ambition of the Omani security forces is to cover the spectrum of essential missions that the security forces of a modern nation are capable of performing. The training policy follows this logic, as does the equipment policy. The security forces therefore have high-performance equipment at their disposal, even if it is not always the most modern versions. For example, the most efficient battle tanks available to the armoured units are British challenger 2s, which entered service in the Omani army in the 1990s, but there is now the problem of replacing them with a more modern tank.

Admittedly, the Omani State is rather rich and has significant oil and gas resources. Hydrocarbon exploitation accounted for 47% of the gross domestic product[2] (GDP) last year. However, this heavy dependence on hydrocarbons leads to relative instability in public finances, which are strongly linked to the price per barrel, and makes investment programmes more complex. And since the price of hydrocarbons is currently maintained at a low level by the major producing countries that are able to influence the market, the Omani State's room for manoeuvre is limited.

The main mission of the security forces is to ensure the defence of Omani territory. This mission is not limited to barring potential enemies, but is also aimed at preventing trafficking and illegal border crossings. All the corps participate in these border control missions, although one particular unit (the Border Guard Unit) is specifically dedicated to this role.

Enjoying a very positive image in Omani society, the security forces embody an important part of the national renaissance and are united behind the figure of the Sultan, an enlightened autocrat who enjoys the support of the population. These security forces have gained in autonomy, having relied heavily on external expertise. They are now an essential pillar of the nation and help to ensure its stability.


Battalion Commander Thomas GRASSER comes from the Engineer Army. He studied Arabic and Persian at the National Institute of Oriental Languages and Civilizations (INALCO) from 2013 to 2015 and is currently an intern at the Command and Staff School of the Royal Armed Forces of the Sultanate of Oman.


1] Objectives indicated by the Ministry of Information in a December 2015 lecture at the Royal Armed Forces Command and Staff College.

2] Figure announced on 15 November 2015 by the Ministry of Oil and Gas in a lecture given at the Command and Staff College.

Title : Omani security forces: a pillar of the national renaissance
Author (s) : Chef de bataillon Thomas GRASSER