Last Sunday, the British defense secretary, Michael Fallon, signed a statement of intent with the Qatari defense minister, Khalid bin Mohammed al Attiyah, for the acquisition of 24 Eurofighter Typhoon combat aircraft, Defense News reports. Although no values were disclosed, a previous agreement for the acquisition of a similar number of French Dassault Rafales by the Qatari government was set at $7.6 billion.
In additional to the two types of European jets, Doha is also procuring Boeing F-15QA fighters from the U.S. This agreement, signed in last June, envisages 36 units for a total of $12 billion. Some sources speculated that this number could grow to a total of 72 fighters, a possibility that may not be fulfilled if the acquisition of the European jets goes through.
All of these new combat airplanes will replace the aging fleet of a mere 12 Dassault Mirage 2000 interceptors. The Qatari Emiri Air Force always had a relatively diminutive fighter complement, operating small numbers of Mirage F-1s and Hawker Hunters during the Cold War.
However, the developments in the Middle East during the last few years have made the military situation in the region increasingly unstable. These hefty purchases are surely a response to this reality.
Qatar is also updating other branches of the armed forces. In August, the Arab country signed a deal with the Italian company Fincantieri worth $5.9 billion for the construction of seven warships.
Doha is also in the process of obtaining 62 German-built Leopard 2 main battle tanks and air defense systems for the Army.
The Eurofighter Typhoon is the product of a European program which aimed at the creation of an air superiority fighter able to contend with the newer Soviet models, at the end of the Cold War. The project involved the U.K., Germany, Italy and Spain, and also France, which left the consortium early in the design process to develop the Rafale on its own.
Because of its multinational nature, the components of the Typhoon are produced across the different countries involved in the development of the jet. According to Reuters, the program sustains around 40,000 jobs in Britain alone.
However, the deliveries to the core European partners are about to end. In order to keep the production lines open beyond 2019, the consortium keeps pushing for contracts in other countries.
Austria was the first client, having received 15 jets in 2007 to replace the much older Saab Draken. Because of the high costs of maintaining such an expensive fighter, Vienna is now searching for a replacement, with the newer Saab JAS-39 Gripen being one of the contenders for this tender.
The consortium also tried to find additional buyers in Europe, Asia and even in the Americas, but it would be in the Middle East that the Typhoon would find its greatest export successes.
Saudi Arabia was the first of such clients, ordering 72 fighter for a total of $6 billion, according to Al-Jazeera. These units were built in the U.K., and were already delivered in their entirety.
There was also the hope that the deal could be followed by a second order of another 72 units, but such a possibility has not yet materialized.
These airplanes have participated in the Saudi campaign against the Houti rebels in Yemen. One of them was lost last week when performing close air support to allied troops, with the loss of the pilot, Mahna al-Biz, the Aviationist reports.
More recently, there were other orders for Typhoon jets coming from Oman (12 units) and Kuwait (28 units). There is also some expectations regarding Bahrein also acquiring the type.
Qatar’s situation, though, is different and quite delicate. The small peninsular country was a Saudi ally, and even contributed to the campaign in Yemen.
However, both nations have been involved in a bitter political dispute since June 5, when Riyadh cut ties with Doha on the accusations of the latter being supporting terrorists. It also demanded for Qatar to cut ties with Iran, Saudi Arabia’s main rival in the region.
Bahrain, Egypt, and the United Arab Emirates supported the motion, effectively isolating Qatar. The situation became quite tense, but the intervention of Turkey on Qatar’s behalf brought some leverage to the dispute.
Thus, the recent overlapping defense contracts made by Doha probably come from a growing concern with national defense. By making itself a harder target, Qatar may be trying to dissuade any potential aggression.
If these weapons systems are indeed aimed at defending the country from Saudi threats, then we may be observing a drastic shift in regional politics.
With the war in Syria seemingly about to transform, as the defeat of the Islamic State looms closer and the Kurds push for independence, the entire region may become even more unstable. This means that for a country like Qatar, which stands on top of rich reserves of oil and natural gas, the need for improved defense will only grow.
[Featured Image by Mindaugas Kulbis/AP Images]