Qatar: The Emir’s New Helicopters
The Qatar Emiri Air Force (QEAF) needs to replace most of its helicopters. Its Sikorsky S-92 VIP helicopters are predictably modern, but the operational front is less promising. The QEAF had been depending on a combination of a small handful of Lynx maritime helicopters, 12-13 old Sea King/ Westland Commando medium naval utility and patrol helicopters, 6 SA330 Puma medium utility helicopters, 6 somewhat more modern SA332F Super Pumas, and 12 old SA324G Gazelle light armed scout helicopters. Age is taking its toll.
The Emirate is a small country, but its does need some flyable helicopters, and could benefit by improving its maritime overwatch capabilities. Iran’s military, with its fleets of small boats and mines, is coupled with a second-track internal threat of subversion and terrorism. In both cases, helicopters are a military’s most valuable assets. A 2008-2011 buy of 21 AW139 light-med utility helicopters was a good first step, and in 2012, Qatar began to get equally serious about improving both its maritime surveillance capabilities, and its armed helicopter punch. Instead of new AgustaWestland and Eurocopter machines, however, Qatar seems to be turning to American designs instead.
Contracts and Key Events
Requests to date include 10 of Sikorsky’s MH-60R armed sea control helicopters, capable of carrying torpedoes, anti-ship missiles, and anti-armor missiles. Another 12-18 MH-60S medium naval utility helicopters will come with an armed kit, which would make them more capable than the kingdom’s previous high-end SA342 Gazelle scouts. Those buys alone would provide a big boost in overall capability and armed punch, but Qatar isn’t done: 24 AH-64D Longbow Block III attack helicopters from Boeing offer a heavily-armored design with a medium-caliber cannon, and a mix of precision strike and air-to-air missiles.
The total estimated value of all these contracts is around $5.5 billion, but negotiations will determine the actual price.
Taken together, this helicopter set would leave Qatar with 30-36 helicopters for utility roles (AW139, MH60S), 3 dedicated MEDEVAC/SAR machines (AW139 variants), and a total of 46-52 armed helicopter options (MS-60S, MH-60R, AH-64D).
July 12/12: Attack helicopters.The US DSCA announces [PDF] Qatar’s official request to buy 24 AH-64D Block III helicopters, plus associated equipment, support, and weapons, including Hellfire missiles. The total estimated cost, if a contract is signed, is up to $3.13 billion for all requests.
The main request is estimated at up to $3 billion, and includes 24 Block III attack helicopters – which would more than replace the QEAF’s 14 existing SA342 Gazelle light armed scouts. It also includes:
- 56 T700-GE-701D Engines (48 equipped, 8 spares)
- 27 AN/ASQ-170 M-TADS and AN/AAR-11 M-PVNS (“Arrowhead”) day/night surveillance and targeting turrets
- 12 AN/APG-78 Longbow Fire Control Radars (FCR) with Radar Electronics Unit and 12 AN/APR-48A Radar Frequency Interferometers
- 28 AN/AAR-57v7 Common Missile Warning Systems
- 30 AN/AVR-2B Laser Detecting Sets
- 28 AN/APR-39Av4 Radar Signal Detecting Sets
- 28 AN/ALQ-136v5 Radar Jammers or Equivalent
- 58 Embedded Global Positioning Systems with Inertial Navigation
- 90 APACHE Aviator Integrated Helmets
- 160 Integrated Helmet and Display Sight Systems-21 (that’s a lot, the pilots need just 48)
- 52 AN/AVS-6 Night Vision Goggles
- 30 30mm Automatic Chain Guns
- 60 M299A1 HELLFIRE Missile Launchers
- 576 AGM-114R HELLFIRE II Missiles
- 50 STINGER Air-to-Air Launchers
- 295 FIM-92H STINGER RMP Block I Missiles
- 4,092 70mm Hydra Rockets
- M206 infrared countermeasure flares, and M211/ M212 Advanced Infrared Countermeasure Munitions (AIRCM) flares
- 8 Aircraft Ground Power Units
Plus training devices, helmets, simulators, generators, transportation, wheeled vehicles and organization equipment, spare and repair parts, support equipment, tools and test equipment, technical data and publications, personnel training and training equipment, and other forms of US government and contractor support. In its statement of rationale, the DSCA says that:
“Qatar is host to the U.S. Central Command forces and serves as a critical forward-deployed location in the region. The acquisition of these helicopters will allow for integration with U.S. forces for training exercises, which contributes to regional security and interoperability… The helicopters will provide a long-term defensive and offensive capability to the Qatari peninsula as well as enhance the protection of key oil and gas infrastructure and platforms which are vital to U.S. and western economic interests.”
The prime contractors will include The Boeing Company in Mesa, AZ (helicopters) and General Electric in Cincinnati, OH (engines). The helicopter’s key sensors and Hellfire missiles will come from Lockheed Martin Corporation in Orlando, FL; Lockheed Martin Mission Systems and Sensors in Owego, NY; and the Longbow LLC joint venture in Orlando, FL. The Stinger missiles are made by Raytheon in Tucson, AZ.
Implementation of this proposed sale will require the assignment of 3 U.S. Government and 5 contractor representatives to Qatar, to support delivery and help get the Qataris familiar with the helicopter and ready to support it. Qatar also wants a Technical Assistance Fielding Team for in-country pilot and maintenance training, instead of sending all personnel to the USA as some countries do. A 12-person team (1 government, 11 contractors) would need to deploy to Qatar for about 3 years, in order to make that happen. It’s also likely to be fairly expensive, so its fate will be determined by negotiations.
AH-64D block III attack helicopter request
July 12/12: Hellfires. A 2nd official request [PDF] from Qatar would add more Hellfire missiles to the package: up to 700 AGM-114K3As with their dual-mode fragmentation/anti-tank warhead, or AGM-114R3 tri-mode warhead Hellfire tactical missiles.
When added to the AH-64D request, that would bring the total to 1,276 approved Hellfires, of which 576 (45%) would be AGM-114Rs, and another 700 either the R3s or K3As.
They’d also want 25 training missiles, containers, spare and repair parts, and other forms of support. Note that Qatar has also submitted requests for MH-60R naval helicopters, and MH-60S naval utility helicopters with the “armed kit” package. All 3 could make use of Hellfire missiles.
That purchase is estimated at up to $137 million, and the prime contractor would Lockheed Martin Corporation in Orlando, FL and Troy, AL. No additional representatives would need to be assigned to Qatar.
Hellfire missile request
June 28/12: Qatar. The US DSCA announces [PDF] a Foreign Military Sale request from the Government Qatar to buy up to 28 modern Seahawk family helicopters, to replace the QEAF’s aging fleet of H-3 “Westland Commando” Sea Kings, and its remaining handful of Westland Lynx helicopters. If contracts are signed, they could be worth up to $2.5 billion. This appears to be an expansion and revision of a Sept 22/11 DSCA request.
Qatar wants 10 MH-60R base configuration helicopters, optimized for anti-submarine warfare, anti-ship attacks, and maritime patrol.
They also want 12-18 MH-60S Seahawk utility helicopters equipped with the Armed Helicopter Modification Kit, which will let them carry laser-guided Hellfire missiles and guided 70mm rockets. That would make them dangerous opponents for smaller ships, especially the armed go-fast boats favored by Iran. They would also be useful against land targets, alongside the kingdom’s lighter SA342G Gazelles. An extra option would increase the armed MH-60S buy to 18 if it’s exercised.
“Base configuration” MH-60R and MH-60S helicopters include a number of other systems, like the built-in ALFS sonar and maritime radar on the MH-60R. Engines tend to be bought under separate contracts, however, and so Qatar has asked for 48 T-700 GE 401C Engines (44 installed, 4 spare, could grow to 61 with options).
The prime contractors will be Sikorsky Aircraft Corporation in Stratford, CT (helicopters), Lockheed Martin in Owego, NY (MH-60R mission systems and MH-60S kits), and General Electric in Lynn, MA (engines). Implementation of this proposed sale will require the assignment of 15 contractor representatives to Qatar on an intermittent basis over the life of the case to support delivery of the MH-60R and MH-60S helicopters and provide support and equipment familiarization.
March 21/11: AgustaWestland announces that the Qatar Armed Forces have ordered another 3 AW139 medium twin helicopters plus a comprehensive support package. These aircraft will be operated by the Qatar Emiri Air Force to perform emergency medical service (EMS/ MEDEVAC) missions.
3 AW139 EMS
Nov 24/09: AgustaWestland announces delivery of the first AW139 to Qatar, during an official ceremony held today at AgustaWestland’s Vergiate plant in Italy. The Qatar Armed Forces becomes the 3rd operator of military-configured AW139 helicopters following the Irish Air Corps and UAE Armed Forces.
July 21/07: Fresh from its purchase of 2 C-17 strategic airlifters, Qatar’s Emiri Air Force signs a EUR 260 million (then about $400 million) contract with AgustaWestland for 18 AW139 medium twin helicopters. The AW139 was formerly the AB139, until the Bell partnership dissolved in 2005).
The helicopters will be used for utility tasks, troop transport, search and rescue, border patrol, special forces operations, law enforcement and homeland security. AW release