Qatar planning a rotorcraft revolution
Qatar is embarking on an ambitious plan to recapitalise its military helicopter fleet.
Details of the Qatari helicopter procurement plan emerged in July, when the US Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA) asked the US Congress to approve a number of orders from Qatar.
The fleet currently comprises one squadron equipped with Aerospatiale SA342 Gazelle light attack helicopters and two squadrons equipped with about 12 Westland Sea King Commandos – one tasked with tactical transport and one with maritime reconnaissance, ASW and anti-surface vessel attack.
The initial DSCA request covered US $3.5 billion (Dh12.85bn) worth of helicopters and associated weapons systems, support equipment, training and support, including in-country pilot and maintenance training.
The helicopters consisted of 22 Sikorsky MH-60 Seahawks (10 MH-60R Seahawks for ASW and ASuW with No. 8 Anti-Surface Vessel Squadron, and 12 MH-60S Knighthawks for tactical transport, assault and mine detection with No. 9 Multi-Role Squadron) as well as 12 UH-60 Black Hawks, with an option to purchase an additional six MH-60S aircraft at a later date.
Days later, the DSCA notified Congress of a possible US $3.0 billion Foreign Military Sale to the Government of Qatar of 24 AH-64D Apache Block III Longbow Attack Helicopters and associated equipment, parts, training and logistical support.
These would replace the ageing and lightweight Gazelles of No. 6 Close Support Squadron, operating in the close air support, armed reconnaissance and anti-tank warfare roles.
The proposed sale would include 12 AN/APG-78 Longbow fire control radars for the 24 aircraft, together with a package of weapons including 4,092 2.75inch Hydra rockets, 576 AGM-114R Hellfire II missiles and 295 FIM-92H Stinger reprogrammable micro processor (RMP) Block I missiles.
The DSCA notifications to Congress underlined Qatar’s importance as an ally, a strategic partner, and as an “important force for political and economic progress in the Middle East”. They also highlighted the enhanced interoperability that would result from any sale to Qatar, as well as the resulting improvements to Qatar’s ability to meet current and future threats and to provide greater security for its critical oil and natural gas infrastructure.
As an important host to US Central Command forces in the region, Qatar is a vital training and operational partner to the US, and the acquisition of MH-60 and AH-64 helicopters will allow greater integration with US forces for exercises and operations, thereby contributing to regional security.
The DSCA concluded that the proposed sales would not alter the basic military balance in the region.