Understanding Kuwait’s Military Modernisation
by Antonino Occhiuto
The member states of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) are located in a dangerous region. This has pushed them to reinforce their defence capabilities and reassess security priorities. In the case of Kuwait, the country’s increasing investments in security and defence, point to formidable present and future threats.
The Most Dangerous Neighbour
The Arab Gulf states have feared revolutionary Iran’s expansionism since the birth of the Islamic Republic in 1979. This led Kuwait to be among those that supported Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Iran in 1980. Iran has exploited the grievances of Kuwait’s Shiite population to stoke unrest in the state. Therefore, Tehran’s ongoing domination of Shiite political parties in Iraq is particularly concerning for Kuwait as the latter is also home to a sizeable and politically active Shiite population. In case of an open conflict, Iran’s military and its asymmetrical forces, represent a significant threat. Despite its technological weakness when compared to the militaries of GCC members, Iran can rely on an array of proxy militias. Worryingly for Kuwait, some of Iran’s most violent proxies—re: Asa'ib Ahl Al-Haq, Kata'ib Hezbollah and the Badr Brigades—are based in Southern Iraq, while Tehran’s regular military force is large and composed of well-trained and ideologically-committed troops. Furthermore, Iran’s IRGC Navy, its unmanned aerial vehicles and missile programme have recently demonstrated the potential to interrupt oil exports and damage oil infrastructure.
The Terror Quagmire
From 2015, Kuwait was the target of terrorist attacks. In 2016 alone, national authorities thwarted three major terrorist plots targeting Shiite mosques planned by radicalised youth that had joined Daesh. The terror group’s strategy was to create chaos by igniting sectarian tensions. The immediate threat posed by Daesh prompted Kuwait to host and support US-led forces fighting the group in Iraq and Syria and enhance cooperation with NATO. Kuwait opened NATO’s Regional Centre in 2017.
Building Unprecedented Capabilities
Also in 2017, Kuwait’s parliament voted to re-introduced military conscription and approved a $10 billion (USD) budget to fund defence modernisation, covering the procurement of products such as fighter jets, tanks and air defence systems until 2026. Kuwait has paid special attention to the air domain, bolstering fighter, rotary-wing aircraft fleets and the relevant weapon inventories. Kuwait purchased a 28-strong fleet of Eurofighter Typhoons from Italy’s Leonardo which will be delivered between 2020 and 2023. The Typhoon is not the only fighter being acquired by Kuwait. In June 2018, Boeing and Kuwait signed a $1.5 billion(USD) contract to deliver 28 F/A-18E/F Super Hornets to the country. With regard to its land forces, Kuwait is currently upgrading its 218-strong M1A2 Abrams squadron to the M1A2-K standard. This required an additional $1.7 billion(USD) investment. Kuwait’s maritime defence is also undergoing modernization. Most notably the US State Department authorised, in 2018, the US shipbuilder Vigor to finalise a $100 million(USD) contract involving the sale of fast patrol vessels to Kuwait as the country aims to secure its maritime frontiers.
The Euro-Gulf Information Centre will continue to monitor the impact of regional threats on Arab Gulf states and the consequent efforts by those states to enhance their preparation to face potential future escalations.
31 January 2020
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