DUBAI — As Qatar upgrades its military and defensive capabilities ahead of the 2022 World Cup, experts have called for the need to install advanced short-range air defense (SHORAD) systems.
Speaking to Defense News, retired Lt. Col. David Montgomery Leigh, of Britain's Parachute Regiment, warned that terrorist groups are rapidly developing off-the-shelf technology for terror use and have acquired a tactical surprise capacity.
"Few people in the defense industry are seeing the threat from low-tech, high-impact projectiles with explosive warheads that terrorists can use. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to operate such a capability that takes place in a matter of minutes," he said.
"My concern for the Qatari World Cup 2022 is the evolving use of low-altitude mortars and rockets that is occurring as we speak is going to be an issue. Why? Because the terrorists have their own version of low-tech miniaturization that gives them a tactical surprise capacity. After all, such weapons can be launched from the back of a garbage cart or boot of a car," Leigh said.
According to Richard Galustian, a senior security analyst, SHORAD measures are essential for Qatar to counter evolving terrorist threats.
"To be sure, terrorist groups like Islamic State are likely planning to disrupt the World Cups in 2018 and 2022 already," he said. "It is notable that violent extremists groups are already experimenting with mortars and rockets but also with armed UAVs and their lessons learned from the battlefields across the MENA region."
In Russia, he said, for the 2018 World Cup, security experts consider the country's safety measures advanced and comprehensive.
Leigh warned that the Islamic State group can modify its tactics to asymmetric warfare with short-range attacks on large events.
"[An attack is] becoming inevitable one day and will be a devil to counter unless planning for the future starts now," he said.
Since 2012, Qatar has been developing its defensive capabilities through the National Security Shield Project (NSS) to secure its vast maritime oil and gas fields, and other high-value targets.
The project consists of constructing an integrated control-and-protection network operated through electronic surveillance and reconnaissance stations along Qatar's sea, coastal and land borders, all connected to a headquarters.
Since 1989, Qatar has been operating the Roland — a legacy Franco-German mobile short-range surface-to-air missile system.
Last month, as part of NSS, the Qatar Emiri Naval Forces signed a memorandum of understand to acquire a coastal defense system from French defense supplier MBDA, equipped with Exocet MM40 Block 3 and Marte extended-range missiles. Upon signing, this contract will be valued at €640 million (US $718 million).
Speaking with Defense News, Galustian said it is unclear what the full scope of NSS is and whether it includes a provision for the detection and destruction of very low-level, unsophisticated SHORAD/VSHORAD threats, or very short-range air defense systemsSHORRAD/VSHORRAD threats.
An artist's impression of the Al Bayt Stadium, Al Khor City, a host venue for the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar, is shown. The stadium is expected to have a capacity of 60,000 and host matches through to the semifinal round.
Photo Credit: Qatar 2022/Supreme Committee for Delivery & Legacy via Getty Images
"In the current climate, terrorists are very effective at quickly producing an innovative, short-range, unsophisticated weapon system, which exploits the capability gap. There are other countries in the [Gulf Cooperation Council] GCC, such as Saudi Arabia, [the United Arab Emirates] UAE and Oman, that employ the use of an integrated detection and fire control system that can detect these small but deadly threats and destroy them with a 35mm weapon system coupled with smart ammunition in combination with missiles when these are required to be deployed," he said.
"There are a number of countries using the Roland system to fill the SHORRAD/VSHORRAD threat. This capability is missile-based with a 13 kilogram fragmentation warhead. When comparing this to the 35mm system favored by most GCC countries, with smart ammunition, the latter is much more precise at surveillance, detection and fire control. However, its major advantage is relatively new, sophisticated ammunition called A-HEAD, which neutralizes a low-altitude threat in a much more effective and efficient manner than a missile," he said.
Galustian warned that technology for the future deployment of weapon systems to counter SHORRAD/VSHORRAD is moving at a pace and becoming quite futuristic in nature.
He said new American and European laser technologies are being developed that will discreetly complement gun and missile defenses while providing an extremely potent solution that ensures the minimum effect on the public at large sporting events. "Laser technology is by far the most important development underway for future air defensive measures," he said.