Despite having lost the bid for the 2020 summer games back in 2012, and the uncertain future of the 2022 World Cup following recent allegations of corruption and human rights abuses in the construction of requisite infrastructure, Qatari defense and security modernization continues unfazed. Following 2012’s massive ballistic missile defense deals it would have been easy to conceive of a slowdown in spending. However, a slew of recent purchases has quickly dispelled that notion. On March 27th, the closing day of DIMDEX 2014 in Doha, the Qatari Ministry of Defense signed off on purchases for AH-64E Apaches, 737 AEW&C’s, NH-90’s, A330 MRTT’s, unspecified patrol vessels, and yet another fully-outfitted Patriot system. Those purchases totaled over $11.4b, and more, smaller purchases followed those for the marquis platforms soon thereafter.
Qatar is clearly pursuing a broad-based modernization program, wiping out perceived strategic weaknesses with swift and comprehensive purchasing sprees, and Avascent Analytics sees naval buildup as the next burgeoning area of Qatari spending. Qatar has been evaluating and augmenting its naval forces for some time now, purchasing naval patrol boats in 2011, and expressing interest in acquiring mine hunters, corvettes, a command ship, and frigates soon thereafter. The purchase of more patrol vessels at DIMDEX – an $820m contract – was no small investment, and as Qatar pursues its 2030 National Vision goals, naval expansion very well may form the next pillar of Qatari military modernization.
Military modernization often comes hand-in-hand with development, and Qatar has continued that trend with their recent acquisitions. Having already succeeded in becoming an international financial hub, the 2020 World Cup, 2030 National Vision plan, and the now-failed Summer Olympics bid serve to bolster Qatar’s position and stature among other developed nations.
The next steps in modernizing their military, however, still remain uncertain. With such a small military, Qatar’s ability to absorb new platform purchases remains hamstrung by the number of soldiers available to them. Land-based platforms and systems have consumed the bulk of Qatari purchases in the recent past, though that may change as requirements become unequivocally filled past the point at which new acquisitions could be justified. Avascent believes that as Qatar continues to grow and expand its influence, it will desire a larger navy to serve the dual purpose of security and prestige. Guarding key ports and taking a greater role in securing the Persian Gulf will require a larger, more capable navy than Qatar currently has, and Qatar’s spending habits suggest that they will spare no expense in fulfilling a perceived requirement.
Expense aside, the Qatari navy suffers from the same problem as the rest of its military – manpower, or rather, lack thereof. If the rest of their purchases serve as any metric for what a future naval modernization could look like, it would be realistic to assume that Qatar would look to fill gaps in manpower with cutting edge equipment designed to network and automate as much as possible while sacrificing very little in terms of lethality. Ships like the Littoral Combat Ship, FREMM, and Fridtjof Nansen-class frigates could form the basis of a new Qatari naval presence, and bolstered by existing patrol vessels and maritime assets, would yield the intersection of capability and stature that Qatar seems to find so attractive.