The small Persian Gulf state of Qatar has been using a reliable and traditional tactic to defend itself in a current feud (over politics and clashing personalities) with its neighbors. Put simply Qatar is using its natural gas and oil wealth to buy support from powerful Western allies. In December Qatar ordered another twelve Rafale fighters from France. Qatar was exercising an option (to buy 12 more for $108 million each) that was part of a 2015 purchase of 24 Rafales. Qatar also got an option to buy another 36 Rafales in the future under fixed terms The 2015 contract was worth about $7 billion ($292 million per aircraft) because it included the cost of training and building support facilities in Qatar. That brings down the cost of additional Rafales. The twelve new Rafales will 24 on order and still being delivered. The new Rafales will serve alongside 24 recently acquired (from Britain) Eurofighter Typhoons and 6 Hawk trainers plus 36 U.S. made F-15QA fighter-bombers. These 54 aircraft, most still being delivered, cost over $12 billion. Meanwhile Qatar’s current force of nine elderly Mirage 2000-5EDAs and six Alpha attack jets will likely scraped or sold when the new fighters arrive and are operational with the Qatar Air force. This will mean an expansion of the air force, which currently has about 4,000 personnel. Most key air force personnel are foreign contractors. Qatar is trying to change that and enacted conscription in 2015. But that only produces 2,000 trained Qataris a year for an armed forces that has 105,000 personnel. Nevertheless Qatar will be hiring lots of former military personnel from Britain, France and the U.S. to help operate and maintain the 54 new combat aircraft.
The Rafale design is a further evolution of the Mirage 2000. It has the same Delta Wing configuration common with the Mirage designs but with canards (a small forewing is placed ahead of the main wing). The Rafale costs between $100 and $130 million each and is a 24 ton multi-purpose fighter with a maximum speed of 2,130 kilometers an hour and a range of over 3,700 kilometers. It is equipped with a 30mm cannon and can carry nine tons worth of weapons. It is a battle tested aircraft that has already seen service with French Forces in Afghanistan, Mali, Libya and Iraq. The latest version is able to use a full range of smart bombs (GPS or laser guided).
By late 2017 over 170 Rafales had been built and over a hundred more were on order. No Rafales have been lost in combat but five were destroyed in accidents. There is a naval version of Rafale that has operated off French and American carriers.
In addition to the fighter contract the Qatar also signed the letter of intent to buy about 490 VBCI Infantry fighting vehicles (with the new 40CTA telescopic gun) later in 2018. The contract value is unknown because it will depend on chosen configuration.
The first Rafale sale was very important because France was having a very hard time attracting foreign customers but everything changed in 2015 when Qatar decided to place an order. Now it seems that the Qatar Air force is sufficiently pleased with Rafale performance to order more. The very interesting fact is that they also decided to acquire completion designs like F-15QA and Eurofighter Typhoon.
The Rafale contract and VBCI purchase will strengthen the long lasting partnership with France which is much appreciated in the case of tense relations with Saudi Arabia. Meanwhile Qatar is seeking more support from Britain and the United States and arms deals are one of the ways to do so. On the other hand Qatar will have one of the biggest and most advanced air fleet in the region. -- Przemysław Juraszek