April 3, 2014 | Policy Brief

Qatar’s Arms Bonanza

April 3, 2014 | Policy Brief

Qatar’s Arms Bonanza

Growing concerns over Iran’s nuclear program and other potential military threats from Tehran have made the Middle East one of the most active arms markets in world. According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, the Middle East was the second largest market for major arms imports in 2013. 

A week ago, the small Gulf nation of Qatar added to this trend with $23 billion in defense purchases at the Doha International Maritime Defense Exhibition (DIMDEX). Qatar’s acquisitions help address two major vulnerabilities:  maritime and air threats to its territory and the offshore facilities that power its economy.

To address the maritime threats, Qatar purchased:

  • 24 x AH-64E Apache attack helicopters – Boeing’s Apache is the attack helicopter of choice in the region, with five countries already in possession of it, and more orders are on the way. For Qatar, the Apache’s mobility and firepower will allow it to respond quickly to asymmetrical attacks by small boats on its offshore infrastructure, a scenario that U.S. Army and UAE Apaches trained for jointly last year.
  • 22 x NH-90 helicopters – In use by multiple European militaries, the NH-90 is one of the most advanced medium-lift helicopters in the world. Qatar purchased two variants of the NH-90. One can move troops quickly to an offshore platform while the other can intercept hostile vessels and hunt submarines. Notably, Iran is expanding its fleet of submarines.
  • 17 x Fast patrol boats – Turkey’s Ares Shipyard will build 17 fast patrol boats for the Qatari Coast Guard. Included in this order are two 46-meter vessels, ten 33-meter boats and five 23-meter craft. These offer Qatar a range of capabilities, from transporting anti-terrorism teams to launching anti-ship missiles. They are also suited for patrolling and responding in its territorial waters and offshore facilities.
  • 500 x FGM-148 Javelin anti-tank missiles – Though primarily designed to be a guided shoulder-fired missile for targeting tanks, the Javelin could be useful for Qatari troops stationed on offshore platforms to target small boats. However, there is reason for concern that the missiles could fall into the wrong hands given Qatar’s known support for militants in Syria.

Qatar’s also bolstered its defenses against ballistic missiles and enemy aircraft with these purchases:

  • MIM-104 Patriot PAC-3 air defense system – During both Iraq wars, Patriots were used to counter Saddam Hussein’s Scud missiles. Today, Patriot missile batteries from the U.S. and Germany stand guard in southern Turkey to thwart Syrian missile and aircraft strikes. The PAC-3 system Qatar purchased is one of the most advanced anti-ballistic missile defense systems available. They are ideal for countering the missiles in Iran’s arsenal but may lack the range to protect Qatar’s offshore facilities.
  • 3 x Boeing 737 AEW&C – Boeing’s latest airborne early warning and control (AEW&C) aircraft has only recently entered service with a handful of foreign air forces. If the aircraft and its large radar work as advertised, Qatar will be able to detect and track multiple airborne and maritime targets simultaneously, greatly expanding the military’s range and ability to respond accordingly.
  • 2 x Airbus A330 MRTT tankers – These airborne gas stations, while unarmed and lacking long range radars, will greatly enhance the Qatar air force’s capability by extending time in the air. However, to make this acquisition and the 737 AEW&Cs worth their hefty price tag, Qatar will need to expand its tiny fleet of a dozen fighters. A competition to fill this requirement is still ongoing.

Qatar also signed an agreement with European defense manufacture Thales to develop an “optionally piloted vehicle.” This essentially would be a drone that could be manned or unmanned depending on the mission.

Though most of this hardware is top-of-the-line, its mostly defensive advantages will only allow Qatar to repel attacks. Given Qatar’s size and lack of serious offensive capability, particularly without new fighters, Doha will still rely on American forces to fully neutralize and deter larger threats like Iran.

Patrick Megahan manages militaryedge.org, a project of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.