The sale of Apache helicopters to Qatar was among deals announced at last week's Doha International Maritime Defence Exhibition. (US Army)
DOHA, QATAR — For proof of Qatar’s military spending spree, look no further than last week’s defense expo here.
The peninsula state, and the world’s top liquefied natural gas exporter, announced contracts worth $23 billion on the last day of the Doha International Maritime Defence Exhibition (DIMDEX), to buy attack helicopters, guided missiles and other weapons from 20 companies, including Boeing, Airbus and other arms makers as the Arabian Gulf state accelerates its military buildup.
Commenting on the purchases, Brigadier Thani al-Kuwari, the Qatari assistant minister of state for defense affairs and chairman of DIMDEX, called the 2014 edition of the show the best to date.
“We greatly appreciate the support we have received from our sponsors, partners, all related governmental and non-governmental institutions,” he said. “This week has been about building on our existing relationships as well as building new relationships, broadening our knowledge in the advancement of new technologies, and establishing partnerships with the world’s leading experts in order to better the position of the State of Qatar.”
Despite Qatar’s most recent political turmoil within the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), analysts see the purchases as necessary for the state’s defensive posture. Earlier this month, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain recalled their ambassadors from Qatar for the first time since the formation of the 33-year-old GCC in what was described as Qatar’s support for the Muslim Brotherhood and the gulf state’s involvement in regional conflicts.
“Qatar’s spending spree at the DIMDEX exhibition not only highlights their defensive posture through the purchase of 17 fast attack boats and 24 Apache AH-64D helicopters, but also their commitment to international players such as the US and Turkey, something which in recent times is a bit of a sore point,” said Matthew Hedges, an analyst at the Institute for Near East and Gulf Military Analysis.
Hedges added that the Qatari Armed Forces will never be extensive and able to project power beyond the country’s borders. Yet the recent purchases will help strengthen its defensive posture and signify that the Qataris believe they will be able to project power beyond their borders someday.
“The intense cooperation with the US highlights that the announced US strategy of dealing with the GCC region as a whole has become a failure due to regional rifts,” he said.
Despite that, the US believes strongly that this rift will be weathered.
Vice Adm. John Miller, head of the US Navy’s 5th Fleet, said America’s most important role there is providing leadership.
“I see that role as a growing role over time, and it will become more important. It has grown over the last two years, and I think it is going to continue to grow,” he said.
“We bring a certain amount of firepower to the maritime security role, the sort of backbone that is important,” Miller added. “But the most important thing we provide, really, is leadership, and that allows the entire GCC to weather the storms that are inevitable in any sort of relationship, and we will see that this time, I think, as we all have,” he said.
The timing of the announcements, Hedges said, after the recent Arab League meeting in Kuwait highlights the fact that Qatar is ignoring the tension caused by its support of the Muslim Brotherhood, and as a result, it is strengthening its armed forces.
Qatar has been embarking on an ambitious military expansion program for a number of years under its National Security Shield Project. According to Naval Brigadier Tariq al-Obaidli, the assistant directer of the project, Qatar’s huge oil and natural gas reserves and its reliance on sea trade make maritime defense of paramount importance to the country.
“This explains why maritime defense is very important to us,” he said.
The future capabilities needed include larger ships that can travel up to 30 knots with a range of up to 5,000 nautical miles. Qatar also needs minesweepers, attack helicopters, ISR aircraft, UAVs and unmanned surface vehicles, he said.
“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,” al-Obaidli said. ■