Military spending by the Gulf states is a highly guarded and classified information. However, this didn’t stop non-government organisation think-tanks such as the UK-based International Institute of Strategic Studies (IISS) to come up with rough estimates of this spending.

Based on IISS data, the six GCC states’ combined military spending in 2014 stood at $114bn, or close to 7 per cent of the bloc’s nominal gross domestic product (GDP) during that year. This accounts for a 15 per cent increase in spending over 2013.

The same estimates were reached by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), although their estimates excluded Kuwait and Qatar. Extrapolating figures from IISS into the SIPRI figure brings the region’s approximate spending to about $123bn.

Considered as a unified region or a single state, the GCC states are the third largest spenders globally next to the US ($609bn) and China ($216bn).

In comparison, Iran spent an estimated $15.7bn on its military in 2014.

Industry analysts agree that about a third of the annual military expenditure for armed countries is accounted for by capital spending. Based on publicly available information, the capital spending in 2015 and the succeeding years could only leap by a considerable magnitude.

Some of the known major acquisitions in 2015 include Qatar’s $7bn contract for the purchase of 24 Rafale jets in May, as part of a major military and defense upgrade plans launched in 2012. Kuwait is reported to be finalising a $9bn contract to acquire 28 Eurofighter jets. Saudi Arabia is understood to be considering acquiring two warships from Lockheed Martin as well.

While spending is not the only indicator to measure a country’s military strength, other expenditures such as training and research are deemed equally important, it is the most tangible indicator as far as many observers are concerned.

The momentum for increased military spending across the GCC is driven by the rapidly changing political and military environment in its immediate territory and borders as well as internationally.

The potential lifting of sanctions against Iran makes Saudi Arabia uncomfortable and has caused a thawing of relations between Riyadh and Washington.  While the US has continuously reassured Riyadh of its unchanging support and commitment, and the US continues to maintain military presence in some Gulf countries, no one could fault Saudi Arabia if it takes steps to strengthen its military on a just-in-case scenario.

The war in Yemen against Iran-backed Houthi fighters is also seen by many as a test bed for the military wherewithal of Saudi Arabia and the Arab coalition members in the event of a direct confrontation with Iran.

The terrorist attacks orchestrated by ISIL in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait this year also show the region’s vulnerability to the growing threat of the group within its own doorsteps.

Finally, the greater role being played by young leaders in charge of defense particularly in Saudi Arabia and the UAE is seen as a key factor in the region’s increasingly hawkish stance as far as military strategy is concerned.

Some would say this change in policy is unprecedented with unpredictable results, but the resolve shown in Yemen seems to indicate the policy is here to stay.