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An Eagle eye on the QEAF’s fighter revolution

Posted 28 June 2019 · Add Comment

A new version of Boeing’s F-15 Advanced Eagle – the F-15QA – lies at the heart of Qatar’s ongoing recapitalisation of its fighter force. Jon Lake reports.

Qatar is replacing a single squadron of 12 Mirage 2000s with at least 96 new fighters – including 36 Boeing F-15QA Advanced Eagles, 36 Dassault Rafales, and 24 Eurofighter Typhoons.
This is an unprecedented and unrivalled expansion, but it forms just one part of a wider air force enlargement.
The Qatar Emiri Air Force (QEAF) will also see the acquisition of Boeing AH-64E Apache attack helicopters, NH 90 transport and maritime helicopters, Airbus A330 MRTT tankers and, possibly, Boeing 737 airborne early warning and control system (AEW&C) aircraft.
For many years, the QEAF has had the smallest operational fast jet fighter element of any GCC air arm, with just 12 ageing Dassault Mirage 2000-5 fighters and six Dassault Alpha Jet advanced trainer/light attack aircraft.
This small force is less than half the size of Oman’s frontline fighter force of 23 F-16s, 10 Hawk 200s and 12 Typhoons. It was even dwarfed by the Bahraini fighter element, with its 12 F-5E and 21 F-16C/Ds.
Qatar first began to look at potential replacements for the Mirage 2000 in 2004, though the programme to modernise its fighter arm began in earnest in July 2010, when it formally issued a request for proposals.
Boeing opened an office in Qatar in December 2010 to promote the Super Hornet and the F-15 as solutions to the Qatari requirement, and two US Navy Super Hornets were evaluated in Qatar at the end of August 2012. Two United States Air Forces in Europe (USAFE) F-15Es were flown to Qatar for evaluation in early September.
It was at this stage that Arabian Aerospace reported that Qatar’s requirement would be for 72 new fighter aircraft, predicting the country would split its fighter buy three ways, purchasing 24 examples each of the Rafale, the Boeing F-15 Advanced Eagle and Eurofighter Typhoon.
Most air forces with a requirement for nearly 100 new fighters would evaluate a number of competing designs and would select just one, with a single maintenance and support infrastructure, and a single training system, realising significant efficiencies, and probably also gaining a lower unit cost through economies of scale.
Some air forces might ‘split’ such a purchase, perhaps procuring two types with complementary capabilities, or in a high:low mix to give the right blend of capability and mass. Others might want two fighter types as an insurance policy – avoiding the risk of a problem with one aircraft grounding the whole fighter force.
Suppliers from different countries could also be selected to try to guard against sanctions grounding the entire force, or to allow the use of weapons that one supplier would not export to ‘country X’. Other air forces might hope to ‘buy’ influence with two or more states.
However, Qatar has taken things to a new level, purchasing three types of fighter from three different suppliers.
Doing so will bring Qatar the opportunity to train with three air force partners, and to exploit three different defence relationships to help establish its own doctrine and tactics and to build its own mission data sets. All of this is more valuable to Qatar than the cost savings that procuring one fighter would have provided.
Qatar began negotiations with France first, judging that Dassault was the ‘hungriest’ of the bidders and most likely to give the best deal. It was hoped that a low Rafale price could then be used to strike a harder bargain with the next supplier. A contract for 24 Rafales was signed on May 4 2015.
In November 2016, the US Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA) approved a potential $21 billion sale of up to 72 Boeing F-15QA Advanced Eagles to Qatar, together with weapons and related support, equipment, and training.
In March 2017, HE Dr Khalid bin Mohamed Al Attiyah, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of State for Defence Affairs (and himself a UK Royal Air Force-trained pilot) flew in the back seat of an F-15E Strike Eagle from Seymour Johnson Air Force Base experiencing the aircraft at first hand.
Qatar signed a $12 billion contract for 36 (not 72) F-15QAs (complete with support packages and weapons) on June 14 2017 and added 24 Eurofighter Typhoons to the mix in September 2017, subsequently adding 12 more Rafales to the order book.
The F-15QA being built for Qatar is an advanced multi-role variant of the two-seat F-15E Strike Eagle and is broadly similar to the F-15SA supplied to Saudi Arabia.
The aircraft has the same new fly-by-wire flight control system, allowing the installation of two additional underwing hardpoints. It will also feature a new internal wing structure, retaining the aerodynamic profile of the original wing, but gaining a longer life.
The F-15QA will be fitted with an active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar, but reports differ as to whether this will be the AN/APG-63(V)3 used on some upgraded US Air Force (USAF) F-15C/Ds and selected by Singapore and Saudi Arabia, or the AN/APG-82(V)1 radar used by upgraded USAF F-15Es.
The aircraft will also feature a new, updated ‘glass’ cockpit featuring the advanced crew station with a large (10 x 19 inch) Elbit wide-area display – a digital multi-function display similar to that found in the F-35 Lightning II.
Reports also differ as to whether the aircraft will be fitted with the new BAE Systems low-profile head-up display (HUD) – a derivative of the company’s LiteHUD – or Elop’s low-profile HUD.
Project Ababeel will see the first F-15QA airframe being ‘joined’ in July 2019, and the first six aircraft will then be delivered by March 2021. A further six F-15QAs are scheduled to be delivered three months later, with further batches of four aircraft then following every three months after that.
All 36 are to be in service by the end of 2022, with 53 trained crews.
Some reports suggest that the F-15QAs will be based at Al Udeid, which is undergoing a major expansion, though this cannot be confirmed.

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