The Future Role of Bahrain Defense Force: Implications and Prospects
Unveiling Bahrain’s Strategic Defense Planning
The Bahrain Defense Force (BDF) is on a strategic path to develop and modernize in order to effectively confront emerging global and regional challenges and protect national security. Newly outlined plans highlight the addition of advanced combat aircraft to the BDF fleet and a diversification of weapon systems sources. Field Marshal Shaikh Khalifa bin Ahmed Al Khalifa, the Commander in Chief of the BDF, shed light on these ambitious plans during an extensive discussion with local newspaper editors, marking the force’s 55th anniversary.
Addressing Regional Challenges and Threats
During the conversation, major regional challenges facing Bahrain and Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states, including threats from the Iranian regime and its regional agents, were discussed. The Commander in Chief emphasized the necessity for strong GCC military cooperation, underlining the significant role of Bahrain and its defense force in regional security. The importance of BDF civilian volunteers was also highlighted, with plans to open doors for women to join as civilian volunteers soon.
Embracing Technological Advancements
Artificial intelligence (AI) technology and its potential adoption by the BDF were also brought to the fore. The Commander in Chief noted that strategic planning within the force aligns with the civilization-building process occurring in Bahrain. This includes investment in defense manufacturing, featuring design, modification, and manufacturing of weapons, ammunition, military equipment, and modern technologies. The importance of focusing on artificial intelligence was emphasized, given its crucial role in national and global security and its potential impact on future wars and regional threats.
The BDF and its Role in Bahraini Society
Despite being highly professional, well-equipped, and effective, the BDF is virtually closed to Shi’a Muslims, the majority of Bahrainis who are considered potentially disloyal to the monarchy and therefore excluded from armed service. This division reflects the deep-rooted societal schisms in Bahrain between the ruling Sunni elite and the Shi’ite majority.
Bahrain’s Relationship with Global Powers
Bahrain is a key ally of the United States, providing essential naval and air facilities for U.S. forces and housing the headquarters of the U.S. Fifth Fleet. Recently, Bahraini Prime Minister Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa signed a comprehensive security and economic agreement with the U.S., aiming to enhance defense and security cooperation, interoperability, and mutual intelligence capacity building. This agreement, while symbolic, signifies an upgrade in U.S.-Bahrain relations and sends a strong message to other regional powers.
Bahrain expects to receive its first batch of F-16 Block 70 in the first half of 2024, making it the first operator of this version of the F-16. The new agreement with the U.S. does not include any additional weapons sales specifically, but the close military relationship between the two countries is likely to continue. With these ambitious strategic plans in place, the BDF is poised to continue playing a crucial role in national and regional security.
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