Back in March 2015, the small nation of Qatar announced the intention of buying up to 36 Dassault Rafale fighter jets. The deal was signed some weeks later, encompassing 24 units with a provision for another twelve.
This last Thursday, December 7, the French manufacturer announced that Doha would indeed expand its order to include the additional airframes, bringing the total to 36 aircraft, according to Flight Global.
This declaration comes just a couple days after a summit between the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries, held in Kuwait, collapsed over the ongoing dispute with Qatar. This council encompasses the rich oil-producing Sunni Arab nations, including Qatar itself, and is led by Saudi Arabia.
Since its inception in 1981, the GCC has served as a counterpoint to Shia Iran, and the countries included therein have been growing closer during the last few decades. However, Qatar, located at the eastern shore of the Arab Peninsula, stands between the two Middle Eastern giants.
The growing relationship between the small peninsular nation and Iran riled up Saudi Arabia. This prompted the latter to initiate a blockade against Doha in June of this year, supported by other Sunni Arab nations.
This was the issue that brought about the end of the planned summit just within hours of its opening, due to the divides it created within the GCC, the Toronto Star reported.
Moreover, and even before the meeting began, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia were already announcing a new form of partnership between the two nations. It is yet unknown if other Arab countries will be invited to join this new pact.
The announcement of more fighters for the Qatar Emiri Air Force happened in the aftermath of these events.
France was part of the Eurofighter project when it began in the 1970s, but disagreements led Paris to break away from the effort and develop its own airplane.
Part of the disagreements stemmed from the French need for a very versatile fighter able to replace nine types of aircraft operating in the country’s Armed Forces, including its Navy. Dassault, the manufacturer of the new jet, came up with a design that was somewhat similar to what would become the Eurofighter Typhoon, but slightly smaller.
Dubbed the “Rafale,” this plane is powered by two Snecma M88 turbofans, and has a range of around 1,800 miles, as a well as a maximum speed of Mach 2. It can carry a load of 20,000 lb of ordnance, which includes air-to-air missiles, laser-guided bombs, and other advanced weapons.
The Rafale flew for the first time in 1986, and entered service with the Air Arm of the French Navy in 2001, replacing the venerable F-8 Crusader.
France had great expectations for the new type in the export market, given the success of the previous single-engine fighters produced by Dassault. However, the Rafale turned out to be slow in gathering orders, while the rival Typhoon kept gaining clients.
Export orders for the French fighter only about came during the current decade. Egypt was the first client, ordering 24 jets in February 2015.
Moreover, India, which had deemed the jet the winner of a competition to find a new medium fighter, ended up only ordering 36 planes of the expected 126.
Qatar had been in negotiations with Paris since 2011, before finally making a decision five years later. It should be noted that until now, Doha has been operating a fighter fleet comprised of a dozen Dassault Mirage 2000s. The decision to not only replace these units, but also expand on the numbers may be linked to the growing instability in the Middle East.
The current agreement not only brings the total of Rafales Doha will operate to 36, but also adds a new provision that allows the further acquisition of another 36 machines. If this was to happen, Qatar could find itself with a fleet of 72 Rafales. The first of these planes should be delivered in 2018.
While this force is relatively small when compared with the sheer numbers of both the Saudi and the Iranian air forces, it is still a very powerful and advanced fighter fleet. Simply put, it may be a strong deterrent against possible aggression.
If an actual attack could truly happen is another issue, though.
Qatar hosts a large U.S. military base, the Al-Udeid Air Base, and recently has also allowed the construction of a Turkish military base. Given that the GCC countries are also American allies, the possibility of risking injuring U.S. personnel is low, albeit not impossible.
It is telling that beyond the jet fighter deal, Doha is also considering buying 490 armored vehicles from the French firm Nexter, according to a report by The Times of India. Deals were also laid down for the acquisition of 50 Airbus A321Neo airliners and to allow a French consortium to build and manage Doha metro system.