x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

Qatar to buy $23bn worth of weaponry including Apache helicopters

Announcement on eve of US president Barack Obama's visit to Riyadh comes as Gulf states boost defences against threat from Iran.

New York // Qatar announced the weapons contracts worth US$23 billion on the eve of bilateral talks between the US President Barack Obama and Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah in Riyadh.

US firms were awarded contracts worth a total of $7.55bn (Dh27.7bn), including a contract with Boeing for 24 Apache attack helicopters. The contracts included advanced military equipment from 19 other manufacturers, including anti-missile interception systems, said a spokeswoman for a defence conference in Doha, where the purchases were announced on Thursday.

The French defence ministry said Qatar would be buying 22 NH90 military helicopters from a unit of European aerospace group Airbus worth nearly $2.8bn.

Twelve of the aircraft would be transport helicopters and the other 10 would be the frigate version. Qatar will also acquire two Airbus-made refuelling tankers, the ministry said.

Qatar, like its fellow GCC neighbours, is accelerating its weapons build-up as nuclear negotiations with Iran proceed. But with tensions within the GCC recently spilling into the open over Doha’s support for the Muslim Brotherhood, the timing of the announcement could complicate today’s carefully orchestrated meeting that is aimed reassuring Riyadh.

“Anything can happen, but I would be surprised if this particular issue upsets the visit in any major way,” said Brian Katulis, an expert on US national security policy in the Middle East at the Center for American Progress, a think tank in Washington.

“The US and Saudi Arabia have prepared for this visit to be as smooth as possible, and both countries are focused on their broader interests.”

Large-scale purchases of powerful strategic weapons such as the one announced yesterday by Qatar are made in the context of safeguarding against Iran, a threat historically shared by all the GCC member states, Mr Katulis added.

tkhan@thenational.ae