Qatar’s military build-up continues with $24bn in new arms deals

Apache helicopters

US Army

 

The Qatar Armed Forces went on a multibillion-dollar shopping spree this week, purchasing new tanks, helicopters, warships, missiles and artillery at a major military trade show in Doha, states news agency QNA reports.

By the time biennial Doha International Maritime Defence Exhibition (DIMDEX) wrapped up Thursday afternoon, the government had signed agreements with more than 20 defense contractors, for a total of QR87 billion (US$23.89 billion).

The orders come amid a dramatic build-up in Qatar’s defense capabilities. The country has already expressed interest in buying 72 new fighter jets and is constructing a new high-tech naval base as part of the new port project.

Maritime defense is particularly important for Qatar, given the size of the country’s coastlines and territorial waters – home to much of the nation’s valuable hydrocarbon resources – relative to its modest land mass. Speaking to DefenseNews, Naval Staff Brig. Tariq Al Obaidli said:

“We depend more on the sea than on land. The challenges are varied and include terrorist acts in the sea, destruction of pipelines, drug trafficking, piracy, illegal fishing and oil and gas leakage, among others.”

While some analysts have suggested that Qatar is building up its defense capabilities in part to ward off potential threats from Iran, others say it is much simpler.

Wealthy countries like Qatar need a strong military to reinforce its economic influence and protect its interests, said Nan Dang, vice-president of China Precision Machinery Import-Export Corp. (CPMIEC), a missile manufacturer.

Speaking to Doha News by phone during the conference, Dang said:

“Every country that wants to have a booming economy must have a strong defence capability … (a nation without a powerful military) is like a building made entirely out of sand. There’s no strong foundation.”

Dang said this was the first time his company attended DIMDEX and was using the visit to build relationships with potential customers and gain a better understanding of the local market and its needs.

“These things takes time. And we are patient,” he said.

While CPMIEC did not sign any contracts, several other defense companies announced new agreements at DIMDEX, according to Reuters and Gulf Times. They include:

  • Boeing will sell 24 Apache attack helicopters from for QR8.9 billion ($2.44 billion). The US aircraft manufacturer will also provide three Boeing 737 Airborne early warning and control planes for QR6 billion.
  • The Qatar Coast Guard Service plans to buy 17 patrol boats from Turkish firm Ares Shipyard for QR200 million ($54.92 million). Ares managing director Kerim Kalafatoglu was quoted as calling the purchase “the biggest one for the military ships category in the region.”
  • French firm Airbus will sell Qatar 22 NH90 military helicopters for €2 billion ($2.76 billion) along with two refueling tankers, according to media reports.
  • Reuters also reported that Qatar will buy a Patriot missile defense system built by Raytheon equipped with missiles made by Lockheed Martin; sensors and radars for Apache helicopters; and Javelin missiles built by a Lockheed-Raytheon joint venture.
  • Lockheed Martin will also build a QR1.5 billion ($410 million) air force training academy.
  • Thales said it will jointly develop an “optionally piloted vehicle” with the Qatar Armed Forces. It said the aircraft could be flown with or without a pilot on board and described it as a hybrid between a conventional aircraft and an unmanned aircraft system. Earlier in the week, Thales said it planned to expand its footprint in Qatar amid growing military budgets across the Middle East.

In addition to building up its arms, Qatar is also working to train its nationals to use weapons and other equipment.

Earlier this month, the Emir also ratified a new national conscription law, that will require Qatari men between the ages of 18 to 35 years old to serve three to four months in the country’s armed forces.

The UAE is in the process putting similar legislation into place.

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