Qatar on Wednesday took delivery of the first of 36 Rafale multi-purpose fighter jets it ordered from French manufacturer Dassault.
The hand-over ceremony in Merignac, southwestern France – where the planes are built – was attended by Qatar Defense Minister Khalid bin Mohamed Al-Attiyah and Dassault Aviation chief Eric Trappier.
The French Minister of Defense Florence Parly awarded the Minister al-Attiyah with the Order of the Legion of Honor on February 6, 2019, during the Qatari minister’s visit to Paris
The Rafale is the fourth type of fighter jet that Qatar has acquired from Dassault. In the past decades, France has also sold Mirage F1, Alpha Jets, and Mirage 2000 fighter jets to Qatar.
Qatar and France signed $12 billion deals during President Macron’s visit to Doha on December 7, 2017. Macron's one-day trip to Qatar came as it faces continued isolation and a boycott by some of its Arab neighbors. Macron was traveling with Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, who in 2015 as defense minister helped negotiate a deal with Qatar to buy 24 Rafale fighter jets.
Qatar has previously signed up to buy 24 Rafale jets and had retained options to buy 12 more. With the signing of the last deal, it has exercised those options, taking its total order book to 36. If it proceeds with the 36 additional options, its total number of Rafale jets will go up to 72, making it the biggest operator of Rafale fighter jets in the world after France.
The Rafale is a twin-engine combat aircraft capable of carrying out a wide range of short and long-range missions, including ground and sea attacks, reconnaissance and high-accuracy strikes.
The aircraft was developed for the French Air Force and Navy. France’s Air Force and Navy ordered 180 (132 for the air force and 48 for the navy). The Rafale entered service with the French Navy in 2004 and the French Air Force in 2006.
The Rafale is powered by two M88-2 engines from SNECMA. It can carry payloads of more than 9 tons on 14 hardpoints for the air force version, with 13 for the naval version. The range of weapons includes air-to-air missiles, air-to-ground missiles, and anti-ship missiles. The Rafale has a twin gun pod and a Nexter (formerly Giat) 30mm DEFA 791B cannon, which can fire 2,500 rounds a minute. The Rafale is equipped with laser designation pods for laser guidance of air-to-ground missiles.
The "2017 Crisis"
In June 2017, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, together with Egypt, cut all ties with Qatar, closing its only land border, banning planes from their airspace and barring Qatari nationals from passing through their airports. They accused Qatar of supporting Islamist extremists and of being too close to Iran, Riyadh's arch-rival. Qatar denies the allegations.
In response to the diplomatic isolation, Qatar has upped its defense spending.
Qatar became the world's third biggest military spender behind Saudi Arabia and India, according to data released by UK Defense and Security Export Statistics for 2016. Qatar has significant imports from France, the US, the UK, Italy, Germany, Turkey, and Russia.
Most of these deals aim to serve the political goal of lobbying major governments against the four countries boycotting Qatar: Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Bahrain, and the UAE. However, these military deals have not put an end to the anti-terror quartet’s measures. They did not politically serve Doha, except for few statements that urge reconciliation and call for lifting the boycott. These calls, however, fell on the other party’s deaf ears.
The last arms deals, including the Rafale deal with France, will provide 96 new aircraft and Doha may not have enough personnel. The problem is the lack of Qatari armed forces personnel to operate the new fighter jets. It remains to be seen how it will be able to absorb these weapons into an effective force and how much they will be dependent on foreign support.
[Sources: The New Arab, Defense World, Airforce Technology, Al Arabiya]