Qatar is about to reshuffle the naval balance in the region by becoming the first Gulf nation to acquire a large helicopter carrier. The oil emirate has signed a memorandum of understanding with the Italian giant Fincantieri for the supply of state-of-the-art naval vessels and submarines. The inclusion of submarines in the 5bn euro deal makes a major difference to Qatar’s naval strength vis-a-vis its neighbors.
The deal with the Italian firm, agreed in 2017, covered a large helicopter carrier, called a Landing Platform Dock, four warships and two patrol boats, as well as shore support and assistance in constructing a new offshore naval base.
Iran is the only submarine operator in the region, except for passing American or European subs. Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Republic are both in the market for submarines.
They would need to be fairly small to serve in the shallow Gulf waters. Italy can cater to that need. It is home to small companies specializing in underwater craft for the use of special forces. These companies include Drass, which produces shallow water attack submarines; GSE Trieste, which recently built a midget sub for the US Navy SEALs; and GABI Cattaneo, which supplies Italy’s own special forces.
DEBKA Weekly’s military experts note that although Qatar is awash with the cash for investing in a sophisticated navy tailored to its needs, the emirate will find it much harder to find the expert manpower for running a fleet of any size and the logistical infrastructure to support its operations. Qatar would therefore have few options but to hire foreign talent for manning its shiny new fleet.