LONDON – Qatar has added a third fighter jet type to the expansion plans for its small air force with the announcement Sept 17 that it is negotiating with the British to purchase 24 Eurofighter Typhoon jets.
British defence secretary Michael Fallon signed a statement of intent on the proposed purchase with his Qatari counterpart, Khalid bin Mohammed al Attiyah, during a visit to Doha by the Conservative Government minister.
The announcement follows hard on the heels of a deal with the U.S. in June to purchase 36 Boeing F-15QA jets for $12 billion in June. The Qatari’s had earlier opened their fighter buying account with a $7.6 billion purchase of 24 Dassault Rafales in 2015.
The 72-strong fleet of fighter jet’s will eventually replace a current Qatari air force fast jet capability of just 12 Mirage 2000s.
The air force build up is part of a major military expansion effort across air, land and sea by Qatar.
Last month it inked a $5.9 billion deal with Italy’s Fincantieri shipyard to build seven warships.
In a statement announcing the aircraft deal Fallon said: “This will be the first major defence contract with Qatar, one of the UK’s strategic partners. This is an important moment in our defence relationship and the basis for even closer defence co-operation between our two countries.”
The support of the British with the arms deal announcement comes at an important time for Qatar, with the Gulf state in the midst of an economic and diplomatic boycott by Saudi Arabia and its regional allies accusing Doha of funding terrorism groups and cozying up to Iran.
Negotiations are expected to progress quickly and the sale, if completed, will make Qatar the fourth nation in the region to acquire the jet.
Saudi Arabia, Oman and Kuwait are already regional customers for the jet built by Eurofighter consortium members Airbus, BAE Systems and Leonardo.
A second batch of jets for the Saudis remains a possibility, although Riyadh’s tight financial position at present makes that unlikely anytime soon. Bahrain has also been mentioned as a possible customer.
Aside from the airframe structures and assembly work split between the three companies the big winners in any deal to sell to Qatar will be Leonardo and missile maker MBDA.
Leonardo produces many of the aircraft’s systems, including the active electronically scanned array radar, while MBDA will likely supply a significant weapons package, including the Marte ER anti-ship missile, which is a key requirement for the Qatari’s.
A deal will come as a huge boost for BAE’s efforts to keep it’s Typhoon assembly line open at Warton, northeast England.
The company said the aircraft they currently have on order will only see Typhoon in manufacturing into 2019.
BAE declined to discuss the Qatari deal but said it was upbeat about future Typhoon sales. “We continue to pursue a number of significant opportunities around the world and we are confident we will sell more Typhoon aircraft to the international market,” a spokesman from the company’s military air business said.
A sale will also provide a fillip for British defense exports which last year slipped to £5.9 billion, the lowest level since 2011.
No price tag for the sale of the Qatar jets is available ahead of detailed negotiations between BAE and the Doha government. But as a rough guide, the most recent sale of the Typhoon into the region was secured by the Italian government and Leonardo last year when they completed a deal with Kuwait for 28 jets at a price of around $9.5 billion.
The Eurofighter companies divvy up export sales campaigns between them with the British largely taking the lead in the Gulf region.
The British will be looking to cement the deal quickly.
Aside from the fighter jet sales themselves, executives said the air force expansion will open up significant opportunities to train pilots and ground crews locally. Initially much of the training is likely to be undertaken by the British, French and U.S. air forces.
Andrew Chuter is the United Kingdom correspondent for Defense News.