One of the themes that, the now CDS, General Nick Carter developed last year as CGS was the need for British Army training to be used as a component of wider defence engagement activities. The conundrum has been that much of the larger scale armoured training tales place in Western Canada where the prairie allows realistic live fire and manouevre to Brigade level. However this is virtually invisible in terms of any spin off for defence engagement.
The recent Exercise SAIF SERIA 3, which took place in Oman in September and October, has pointed the way to a more visible and regionally significant option. Involving nearly 6,000 British soldiers sailors and airmen, the exercise was conducted with the Omanis who conducted a near mobilisation fielding a force of close to 75,000 personnel. Links with Oman have been strong for decades very much sustained by the British loan service contingent who help train and develop the Sultan’s modern military and naval capability. Vedette personnel were in Muscat supporting the Exercise and helping to develop, collate and distill observations on the exercise. These will be used to shape not only the UK JFC agenda in the coming years but have been developed in tandem with the Omani staff to produce a joint ‘post exercise’ report.
A cursory glance at the map shows how Oman sits on some critical fissures within the Middle East. In the South there are tribal links stronger to Somalia than the Middle East that point to Africa; yet many of the Omani infantry units had strong ties to the Baluch in Pakistan. With Saudi Arabia to the West and Iran to the North East they are in a strategically important location. Historically the Aden/Yemen border has been the focus for security concerns, and whilst the calamity in Yemen overshadows any residual issues there, the regional impact of the conflict is also a concern.
Oman plays the role of honest broker in a proactive way in the region, ensuring that good relations are maintained with all parties. It is no accident that Muscat is the first choice for conference and peace talks within the region. It is fitting then, to promote UK defence engagement, that the ties between the UK and Omani armed forces are set to deepen. General Carter’s wish to train in plain sight will be achieved on a more regular basis with UK armoured company groups already scheduled to train in 2019, and closer ties planned with both the Royal Oman Air Force and Navy.