July 27, 2012:
The Persian Gulf state of Qatar has ordered 24 American AH-64 Apache gunships. Earlier this year Qatar had ordered 34 American Blackhawk and Seahawk helicopters. Some of these will be equipped with radar and a six barrel 7.62mm machine-guns and used for coastal patrol, as well as for moving personnel and cargo. The AH-64s, on the other hand, are all about combat and will be the latest Block III models.
The U.S. Army received its first Block III AH-64s last year. Block III has a lot of improvements. One of the notable ones is a more powerful and fuel efficient engine, as well as much improved electronics. Block III will also have Internet like capabilities with other aircraft and ground troops. Block III will be able to control several UAVs and launch missiles at targets spotted by its UAVs. The Block III radar will have longer range and onboard computers will be much more powerful. The electronics will be easier to upgrade and maintain. The combination of improved fire control and Internet capabilities is expected to greatly increase the capabilities of the AH-64.
The 7.5 ton AH-64D carries a pilot and a weapons officer, as well as up to 16 Hellfire missiles (plus the 30mm automatic cannon). Sorties average three hours. The AH-64 can operate at night and has a top speed of 260 kilometers an hour.
In addition to the U.S. Army, the Block III is also being bought by the UAE (United Arab Emirates) which is buying 60. Neighboring Saudi Arabia ordered 70 of the same model, as well as upgrades (to the Block III standard) for its existing twelve AH-64s.
Qatar is one of the many emirates that occupy the western shore of the Persian Gulf. In the 19th century the coastal emirates (city states that depended on trade, pearls, and fishing) allied themselves with Britain, for protection against the Turks (who controlled what is now Iraq), Iran (always a threat to the Arabs), and the interior tribes of Arabia. Britain was interested in suppressing pirates (which often operated out of the emirates) and halting Turkish expansion. In 1971, seven of the emirates formed a federation: the UAE (United Arab Emirates). There were immediate disputes with Saudi Arabia about where the land and water borders should be. Some of those disputes are still unresolved. The Saudis consider themselves the leader of Arabia but most of the population (in Yemen, Kuwait, Oman, and the UAE) often disagrees. There is a lot of friction. Nevertheless, in 1981, the Gulf Cooperation Council was formed by Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE.
Qatar is small (11,437 square kilometers/4,416 square miles) with a population of 1.7 million. It has large oil revenues, giving it a per-capita GDP of over $80,000 (the highest in the world). The emir has made sure that the money is shared, making the population tolerant of being ruled by a monarchy. The emir has recognized that most of the oil and gas will be gone within 40 years and is trying to build a "knowledge economy" that will keep Qatar prosperous after the oil boom is over.