The Weekly Wire: For Your Situational Awareness 2/7/20
Qatar Expresses Interest in Submarines
Jessica Di Paolo, Senior Market Analyst
On February 4, Qatar allegedly signed a memorandum of understanding with Fincantieri to acquire additional naval vessels and potentially submarines. Qatar already signed a $4.2 billion contract with Fincantieri in 2016 to acquire an amphibious landing dock, two offshore patrol vessels, and four corvettes. It’s unclear how many vessels and submarines Qatar would like to acquire or the cost of the program, but it is part of Qatar’s plan to revamp its navy and special forces.
Qatar has been building its military capabilities following regional tensions with other Gulf countries that led to a blockade in June 2017. Led by Saudi Arabia, members of the Gulf Cooperation Council severed ties with Qatar over allegations that Qatar was supporting Iran and terrorist groups. While Iran remains the only country in the region to operate submarines, Saudi Arabia is also eyeing similar capabilities and engaged with French OEMs in late 2019 to discuss acquiring the capability. It is assumed that recent regional tension, specifically between Iran and the US in January 2020, are fueling a potential arm race in surface and underwater warfare. Qatar, through its indigenous firm Barzan signed a Memorandum of Understanding on January 27, 2020 with Fincantieri to study naval technology, focusing on digital radars, cybersecurity, and future naval vessels and submarines. Small and light submarines could potentially represent the biggest chunk of the on-going discussions if operational challenges and competition can be overcome.
This is not the first time that Qatar is expressing interest in submarine capabilities. In 2013, it was reported that a French naval team provided consultations on underwater defense systems to the Qatari Navy. The SMX 26 type from DCNS would have caught their interest due to systems specificities and compatibility with the operating environment. Russian OEMs have also approached the Qatari Navy and showcased the Amur-1650 type and Piranya submarine. The Amur-1650 is unlikely to meet littoral and coastal requirements, while the Piranya smaller submarine project is closer to the SMX 26 type that would be more suitable based on geography and personnel constraints.
The Department of Defense’s effort to procure a number of light attack aircraft, such as the AT-6 or A-29, has taken yet another form as Special Operations Command now plans to release a draft Other Transaction Authority proposal that could set up a competition for approximately 75 light attack aircraft. This comes only four months after the US Air Force (USAF) announced that it would purchase four to six light attack aircraft as part of its experimentation program, and only three months after USAF Assistant Secretary for Acquisition Technology and Logistics Will Roper hinted that the effort for armed overwatch for special operations could be spun off into a separate effort.
The debate around the acquisition of light turboprop attack aircraft for the USAF has seen a great deal of debate over the last few years. The proponents of such plans see it as a way to free up frontline combat aircraft from mundane, but expensive, close air support operations in places such as Afghanistan and Iraq; grow the Air Force; provide sufficient political cover for the Air Force to retire the A-10; and help address the top-heavy nature of the USAF pilot core by providing new pilot billets accessible to younger officers. Meanwhile, opponents of the plan are concerned about the viability of investing in the acquisition and training of an aircraft which is only usable in non-contested airspace during a time of rising near-peer threats.
The Philippine Navy stated its plans to decommission 22 vessels in 2020. Some of these, like the Malvar-class offshore patrol vessel and the tank landing ship vessels, have been operating since the World War II. Despite decommissioning so many vessels, Flag Office in Command Vice Admiral Robert Empedrad stated that such a large retirement was necessary to save on maintenance and repair costs and ensure that the more modern vessels coming into the Philippine Navy could be manned. In fact, Vice Admiral Empedrad believes that overall readiness would be increased as a result of the retirements. Some of the more modern vessels include two landing platform docks from Indonesia, two corvettes from South Korea, six offshore patrol vessels from Australia, and eight fast attack interdiction craft.
On January 29, Latvia and Finland agreed to pursue a joint development program aimed at creating a new armored 6×6 vehicle. Latvia and Finland have contracted Patria as the development contractor for this project. The goal is to develop a new land vehicle based on the Patria 6×6 chassis that will enhance the mobility and interoperability of both countries’ ground forces. Additionally, more countries could join this effort, but only if both Finland and Latvia agree to allow them in. According to media reports, the hope is that the joint development effort, combined with Patria’s track record and expertise in the ground vehicle market, will result in both improved capabilities and cost savings for both countries.