Partnerships, robust defense infrastructure enable Oman's stabilizing influence in Gulf


Oman, called the 'Switzerland of Arabia' for its diplomatic efforts, maintains an advanced air defense technology system to guard against threats from the sky.

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Soldiers walk towards a Chinook CH-47 helicopter, during a joint British-Omani military exercise, Saif Sareea 3, at Musannah air base, west of Oman's capital Muscat, on October 26, 2018. [Mohammed Mahjoub/AFP]
Soldiers walk towards a Chinook CH-47 helicopter, during a joint British-Omani military exercise, Saif Sareea 3, at Musannah air base, west of Oman's capital Muscat, on October 26, 2018. [Mohammed Mahjoub/AFP]

Strong international partnerships are the bedrock of defence strategy in Oman, a country known for its stabilizing influence in the Gulf.

The sultanate's relationships in Europe and in the United States have facilitated a layered air defense system, and bilateral and multilateral trainings with international allies ensure that the country is prepared to respond to a variety of security threats.

Oman's air defense infrastructure includes the Norwegian Advanced Surface-to-Air Missile System (NASAMS), produced jointly by Norwegian manufacturer Kongsberg and US defense contractor RTX (formerly Raytheon), according to the Missile Defense Advocacy Alliance (MDAA).

NASAMS is a mobile, medium-range air defense system capable of targeting aircraft, helicopters, cruise missiles and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs).

It can be deployed to protect high-value assets and mass population centers from air-to-surface threats, according to MDAA.

The system can engage 72 targets simultaneously in active and passive modes. Using active seeker missiles, it can intercept targets beyond visual range.

NASAMS is armed with three launchers, each carrying up to six missiles.

It can use multiple warning and tracking radars shared across integrated Link 16 networks with a variety of air defense interceptors.

Oman also utilizes the highly mobile US-made Avenger system, which the MDAA calls a "shoot-on-the-move, completely automated, day-and-night capable short-range air defense weapon."

Alongside NASAMS and Avenger, the Omani army uses Spain's AIRDEF air defense system, which comprises several command and control centers along with radar to identify friendly and enemy aircraft, Spanish manufacturer Indra said in a statement in 2019.

"The system merges intelligence data, as well as data from other sources, to provide an integrated view of the air situation," it said. "Its revolutionary interface incorporates data presentation tools that facilitate the functions of each operator."

Supporting partnerships

Oman, which maintains close defense ties with the United States and the United Kingdom, is strategically positioned on the eastern Arabian peninsula, controlling the Strait of Hormuz's western bank.

The strait is a key naval chokepoint through which 30% of the world's maritime oil shipments pass.

The passage has been the target of Iranian aggression, including an incident in July in which the Iranian navy tried to seize two merchant vessels in the Strait of Hormuz and the Gulf of Oman, even opening fire at one of the vessels.

In recent years, both the United States and the United Kingdom have participated in joint military trainings with Oman to prepare for security threats, taking advantage of Oman's rugged and complex terrain.

In 2018, Exercise Saif Sareea 3, a combined UK-Oman military training exercise, marked the largest joint exercise of its kind in 15 years, with 5,500 UK regular and reserve military personnel taking part alongside more than 60,000 Omani troops, according to a British army statement at the time.

The United Kingdom has continued yearly joint military trainings in Oman, most recently in March 2023 with Exercise Khanjar Oman, according to the British Ministry of Defence.

In 2019, Oman and India, another key security partner of the sultanate, began holding a joint air combat exercise known as "Eastern Bridge" at Oman's Masirah air force base.

The Omani and Indian air forces sought to enhance interoperability with the exercise, which provided "an opportunity to learn from each other's best practices," an Indian air force officer told the Times of India.

"Besides strengthening bilateral relations, it will also provide a good opportunity to the air warriors to operate in an international environment," the officer said.

The two countries held the 6th and last iteration of Eastern Bridge in February 2022 at Air Force Depot Jodhpur near Rajasthan, India.

A stabilizing influence

A crucial security partner for the West, Oman supports the United States in the form of access, basing and overflight permissions that facilitate coalition defense efforts in the region, according to US Central Command (CENTCOM).

With its strategic location at the Strait of Hormuz, "Oman is valuable to [US Department of Defense (DoD)] operations and planning," US Assistant Secretary of Defense Celeste Wallander told the US House of Representatives' Armed Services Committee in March.

"Oman serves as a critical waypoint for DoD operations and CENTCOM [area of responsibility] and is a consistent voice for diplomacy and moderation in regional affairs," Wallander said.

Having earned the title of the "Switzerland of Arabia" with its diplomatic efforts, Oman is seen by regional and global actors as a genuine stabilizing force amid increasing security conflicts, according to the Washington Institute.

Oman's security partnerships, along with its robust air defense infrastructure, support the sultanate's goal of maintaining stability in the region.

"Oman's longstanding partnership with the United States is critical to our mutual objectives, including increasing economic diversification and development opportunities, promoting regional stability, and countering terrorism," the US State Department said.

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