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Qatar is buying five Italian warships for $5.61bn

The Government of Qatar is expected to shortly ink a $5.61 billion contract for five corvettes and one support ship with the Italian shipbuilder Fincantieri. The Italian defence giant Leonardo (formerly known as Finmeccanica) will also be involved in the deal as the principal sensors and electronics vendor.

Comment and Analysis

Italy had expected Qatar to finalize the deal in April, but last-minute lobbying from the French defence industry resulted in a temporary delay, thus seemingly giving room to DCNS to step in with its FREMM frigate and Gowind corvette product lines. In fact, France reportedly offered three FREMM-based frigates equipped with the medium-to-long range MBDA Aster-30 surface-to-air missile a ‘discounted’ price.

With Qatar apparently selecting Fincantieri as the winner, it is likely that its corvettes will be derived from the company’s Multipurpose Corvette design. With a length of 104 metres, a displacement of 2400 tons (unclear if it is standard or full-load), and capable of the full-spectrum of naval operations, the corvette design could be viewed as a ‘light frigate.’

The design’s weapons load seems to be comprised of eight anti-ship missiles (AShM), a vertical launch system (VLS)-based anti-air warfare (AAW) suite, and standard dual-triple anti-submarine warfare (ASW) torpedo launchers. It even includes aft helicopter deck and hangar as well as a main gun just ahead of the bow. In effect, the design is far superior to anything in service with Qatar’s navy today.

With Leonardo-Finmeccanica as the presumptive vendor sensors and on-board electronics, it is likely that the ship’s suite will center on the KRONOS Grand Naval or at least KRONOS Naval multifunctional active electronically-scanned array (AESA) radars. If Qatar selects the Grand Naval, then its ships would have a maximum detection range of over 300km (and 250km in the case of the KRONOS Naval). These radars would be supported by fire control radars, surveillance and tactical navigation radars, and electro-optical tracking systems. These, alongside the sonar and electronic support measures suite, will also be sourced from Leonardo-Finmeccanica.

Qatar could pair this suite with the MBDA (France/Italy) Aster-15 and Aster-30, or alternatively, the MBDA (UK) Common Anti-Air Missile (CAMM). The AShM and ASW suite will likely come from MBDA as well, e.g. via the Otomat or Exocet (AShM) series, and in terms of ASW, the MU-90 lightweight torpedo. In terms of non-European munitions, one possible addition could be the Raytheon RIM-116 Rolling Airframe Missile (RAM) point-defence missile system. However, that would be a separate contract.

As with its air force, Qatar’s navy may also be following an ‘enhance and expand’ modernization roadmap. Not only is it procuring qualitatively superior systems, but it is also rapidly increasing its force size. In the case of the Qatar Emiri Navy, it will be worth keeping an eye on whether it chooses to supplement these new corvettes with smaller (but relatively very capable) corvettes or fast attack crafts (FAC). The latter could replace its current patrol vessel and FAC fleets, thereby demonstrating the added power of these new corvettes.

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