As part of an unprecedented effort to build up its military capabilities, Qatar is seeking to expand its air force with some 72 new combat jets. According to US-based Defense News, UK and French contractors have already bid for the purchase, but the decision has been delayed as Qatar awaits a proposal from the US.
BAE Systems is offering its Typhoon, and Dassault Aviation, the Rafale. The US bid will involve the Boeing F/A-18 Super Hornet and the F-15 Strike Eagle.
The bid for jets is part of a larger effort by Qatar to shore up its defenses in the event of an altercation with Iran, Richard Aboulafia, senior aviation analyst at the US-based Teal Group, told the newspaper.
“They’ve got the cash and judging from their C-17 acquisition, they’re starting to get very serious about high end airpower. So I wouldn’t discount the prospect of a massive ramp up. The big challenges are infrastructure and pilot training.”
The inclusion of BAE’s Typhoon in last week’s display by the UK’s aerobatic display team the Red Arrows in Doha was not coincidental.
In an interview with Doha News, the UK’s Ambassador to Qatar, Nicholas Hopton, reaffirmed his government’s support for the company:
“We are trying to support BAE in selling the Typhoon around the region, and we very much hope that Qatar will consider the Typhoon when it makes decisions about the future composition of its air force.
Many people will have seen the Typhoon display on Thursday. As an aircraft it’s outstanding, second to none.”
Analysts attribute Qatar’s defense spending spree to the country’s new Emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, who oversaw the purchase of billions of dollars of arms in the past few years before he became the country’s leader in June.
“What we are realizing is his plan to develop the Qatari military,” said Theodore Karasik, the director of research at the Institute of Gulf and Near East Military Analysis.
In 2013 alone, Qatar ordered some $8 billion worth of equipment from the US, according to the US Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA), which is required to inform Congress about major arms sales.
And earlier this year, Qatar signed a deal to purchase some $2.6 billion worth of weapons and tanks from a German defense firm to upgrade its artillery.
According to Defense News, Qatar is new to fighter jet purchases, and it is unclear whose bid it will choose. The winning contractor will be named sometime next year.