Modernising GCC military HR models

Improving morale, motivation, and performance

Executive summary

Armed forces in the Gulf Cooperation Council1 (GCC) need to concentrate on human capital development after over a decade of focusing on modernising equipment and doctrine. To get the most from this modernisation, GCC militaries need military human resources (HR) models that recruit, retain, and train people to have the appropriate skills during service, and then prepare them for retirement. Instead, GCC militaries are currently facing problems of morale, motivation, and performance. They lack people with the necessary skills because it is difficult to “buy” military human capital as they can military equipment.

GCC governments need to reform military HR models so that they attract the most talented individuals, provide them with proper training, use them more efficiently, and support their post-retirement integration into society. This will improve morale and provide the skills required by heightened security situations and rising demand for advanced capabilities.

To achieve this, GCC militaries need military HR models that flexibly assign careers to increase productivity and efficiency, offer attractive pay scales linked to skills and responsibility, promote mental and physical health, use more flexible recruitment, and ensure proper integration of retirees into civilian life. These models should link promotions to performance, give service members more control over their careers, and encourage professional and educational development. They should recruit the brightest and the best, provide internationally comparable standards of training, implement retention programmes, use civilians for non-operational functions, and draw upon civilian expertise in specialised areas such as high tech. Such military HR models will strengthen military human capital, provide fulfilling careers for personnel, while improving overall force effectiveness, readiness, and performance levels.

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A time to modernise

Over the past few decades, GCC militaries focused on inducting new equipment and modernising their operational capability. From a personnel perspective, armed forces invested in training “front-line operators.” Unfortunately, broader HR reform was not on the agenda of military leaders. Instead, HR practices remain stuck in routines inherited from the Second World War era, which has led to low morale, insufficient motivation, and inadequate performance.

A new way of thinking about HR is critical because GCC militaries are not attracting appropriately skilled people, nor are they providing those they do recruit with the right training to complement modern equipment or meet military threats. Without these skilled personnel, GCC militaries are unable to get the most out of the last decade of modernising equipment and doctrine.

GCC militaries are not attracting appropriately skilled people.

Military HR models under strain

Existing GCC military HR models are under considerable pressure. Geopolitical and military trends are straining GCC military human capital, and GCC armed forces are facing increasingly capable adversaries. The technological environment is also changing, with unmanned, autonomous platforms and weapons increasingly appearing on the battlefield (see Exhibit 1).

Mission-critical capabilities cannot be outsourced
In the 1980s and 1990s, GCC militaries would “acquire” capabilities from friendly and allied countries. They would use, for example, pilots seconded to them from Egypt, Jordan, and Pakistan. However, this option is no longer available. The modernisation of the GCC’s military platforms and systems has outpaced the capabilities of traditional allies. At best, GCC militaries can use expatriate contractors to plug gaps in support functions in a partial manner, but this is at odds with their ambition of developing indigenous defence capabilities.

Demographics are a disadvantage
GCC nations have relatively small populations, resulting in a scarcity of national manpower that can serve in the armed forces. The small volume of military human resources makes it difficult to invest in staff colleges, war colleges, and other specialist and local training institutions in the GCC. Consequently, militaries in the region traditionally either have relied on domestic civilian education facilities or have sent their personnel abroad for training and education.

Legacy peacetime military HR models cannot handle operational pressures
GCC militaries developed their military HR models during an era of relative peace and stability. These models cannot cope with today’s tempo of military operations and rapid technological change.


GCC armed forces are undergoing a profound transformation. They are adopting new technologies and platforms, while their frequent operations are straining their human capital. To reverse the current problems of low morale, poor motivation, and skills shortages, they need a new HR model that will recruit the best, train them to the highest standard, use them efficiently, and then help them reintegrate into civilian life. Such a model will meet the military HR needs of the future and treat their military personnel as national assets.

1 The GCC countries are Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and United Arab Emirates.

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Haroon Sheikh

Haroon Sheikh

Partner, Strategy& Middle East

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