Generally, the Middle East and North Africa are seen as one of the world’s least stable regions.
In their annual Global Peace Index, the Institute for Economics and Peace ranks it as the most violent region.
That’s not surprising, given the civil wars in Iraq, Libya, Syria and Yemen, as well as the insurgency in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula, intermittent violence in Israel and the neighboring Palestinian Territories, plus the occasional flare-ups in Iran and Saudi Arabia and elsewhere.
Many of the larger conflicts have become venues for proxy wars in which regional powers are testing the abilities of their rivals. In Yemen for example, a coalition involving Saudi Arabia, the UAE and others is fighting to reinstate the government of president Abed Rabbou Mansour Hadi while Iran has been providing support to the main terrorist group, known as the Houthi rebels. In Syria, elements of the armed forces of Iran, Turkey and others have been heavily involved alongside myriad rebel groups.
Such involvement requires heavy investment and Middle East governments have been spending huge amounts to sustain their armed forces, with the Gulf countries in particular involved in an expensive arms race. By far the biggest spender is Saudi Arabia. Last year, Riyadh’s defense budget was more than next five biggest spenders in the region combined (Iraq, Israel, Iran, Algeria, Oman), according to the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS).
Money is not the only criteria for judging the capabilities of a country’s military forces though. The quality and quantity of weaponry and training are also key elements, as are the number of soldiers, sailors and pilots that can be called on in an emergency. The Global Firepower (GFP) index weighs up more than 50 such factors, including the range of weapons in the arsenal, the amount of available manpower and the abilities of the local defense industry, to come up with its rankings of the most effective fighting forces globally.
Boasting by far the best-equipped armed forces in the Gulf region, Saudi Arabia’s military is a force to be reckoned with.
Having last year led coalition air strikes against Houthi rebels in war-torn Yemen and amid deteriorating relations with Iran, here’s an in-depth look at the Saudi forces to see how they rank against regional neighbors and the global players.
The Saudi military numbers 227,000 troops, including 75,000 in the army, 13,500 in the navy and 20,000 in the air force. Some 16,000 personnel are committed to air defenses, 2,500 are responsible for strategic missiles and 100,000 men the National Guard, according to the IISS Military Balance, 2015.
The Saudi Army also has 600 heavy tanks, 780 light armored vehicles and 1,423 armored troop carriers.
Its air force is equipped with 313 fighter jets, including F-15s, Tornados and Eurofighter Typhoons, as well as helicopters.
With all this firepower, and 150,000 troops ready to mobilize, it’s no wonder the world’s eyes are turned to the Gulf state.
It was analyzed what firepower Saudi Arabia’s has at its disposal, and how this shapes up to other military forces from around the world.
According to a study released in 2015 by U.S. based analysts IHS Jane’s, the Kingdom, which is a leading player among the Gulf monarchies, Saudi Arabia was the world’s biggest importer of defense equipment last year.