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Qatar ramps up sea, air power

DOHA, Nov 29, (RTRS): Qatar will more than double its naval forces by 2025 as a massive new base comes online and it expands a national service programme amid a protracted dispute with neighbours which it says requires greater selfreliance.

Like its larger neighbours, the tiny but gas-rich state has used its massive wealth to launch a sweeping modernisation of its military, pouring tens of billions of dollars into some of the world’s most advanced weapons systems.

Qatari defence officials said the buildup has been planned for several years, and predates a Saudi Arabia-led political and economic boycott imposed since June 2017 over allegations that Doha supports terrorism — something which Qatar denies. But they also said the tensions underscored the need to boost domestic capabilities while still hoping for an end to the dispute that has fractured a Gulf Arab bloc set up in 1981 to coordinate on political, economic and defence matters.

“You don’t want to put all the burden on your friends and allies’ shoulders. At some stage you have to stand up for yourself and defend yourself,” State Minister for Defence Khalid Al-Attiyah told reporters on a media tour of military facilities. The row has eluded US mediation efforts as Washington works on launching a proposed Middle East security alliance to act as a bulwark against Iran.

Doha has said the new alliance faces a credibility risk as long as the boycott is in place. The United States is allied to all six Gulf states. Qatar hosts Al-Udeid air base, the largest US military facility in the region, while Bahrain is home to the Navy’s Fifth Fleet. Since the rift began Qatar has announced purchases of three different fighter jet systems, including 36 American F- 15s, 12 French Rafale fighters and 24 Eurofighter Typhoon aircrafts. Qatar’s navy of fewer than 3,000 people is expected to balloon to 7,000 by 2025, a navy spokesman said.

Construction for a sprawling new naval base south of Doha will begin early 2019. The base is intended to accommodate 6,000 people and support some of the big-ticket recent purchases expected to arrive in the next two years, which include four Italian Corvettes and a behemoth amphibious landing platform dock.

Analysts say the manpower challenge is enormous and the different systems, intended to shore up strategic alliances, will complicate training. “They have to completely build up an air force and navy from scratch with very few Qatari nationals — where are they going to find the manpower to do this?” said Pieter Wezeman, a senior researcher at Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. “If you compare this to Belgium or Sweden which has about 10 million people to choose from and have smaller armed forces in terms of equipment versus Qatar, this is going to be a very big task.” Qatar has just over 300,000 citizens and relies on expats from countries like Pakistan and Sudan to fill out its military.

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