Pentagon green-lights potential $1 billion anti-drone system sale to Qatar

The Pentagon said the possible sale “will not alter the basic military balance in the region.”

The United States has approved the potential sale of an anti-drone system to Qatar, its major non-NATO ally (MNNA),  for $1 billion, the Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA) said on Tuesday.

The Pentagon said it “delivered the required certification” to Congress over the possible sale, which includes 10 unmanned defensive drone systems along with 200 interceptors. 

The drone’s principal contractors will be Raytheon Technologies Corp, SRC and Northrop Grumman Corp.

“This proposed sale will support the foreign policy and national security objectives of the United States by helping to improve the security of a friendly country that continues to be an important force for political stability and economic progress in the Middle East,” the defence department stated.

The statement added that the sale would also “improve Qatar’s capability to meet current and future threats”, noting that the potential transaction will not alter the basic military balance in the region.”

The implementation of the proposed purchase requires the assignment of five additional Washington government and 15 other US contractor representatives to Qatar for five years “to support fielding, training and sustainment activities”.

The latest development comes a week after US Secretary of State Antony Blinken visited Qatar for the allied states’ Strategic Dialogue. 

Blinken had met with Qatari Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani, where they discussed bilateral ties and joint cooperation in various fields, including defence.

Qatar-US defence ties

The Gulf state hosts the Al-Udeid Airbase, the largest American military post in the Middle East, which is used extensively by the US for its operations in the region.

In January this year, US President Joe Biden designated Qatar as a Major non-Nato Ally (MNNA), in a move that analysts say reflects the strengthening ties between the two countries.  

The designation provides Washington’s foreign partners with several benefits in areas concerning defence, trade and security cooperation.

President Biden had also said the designation was a recognition of Qatar’s role as a reliable ally, especially given its major efforts last year in light of the Taliban takeover of Kabul.

At the time, Qatar and the US cooperated in mass evacuations of Afghans and foreigners. The Gulf state had also carried out history’s largest airlift of people by evacuating at least 80,000 Afghans and foreigners.

Last year, the US Congress issued a statement calling legislators to include Qatar in the National Defense Authorization Act for the fiscal year 2022. The move reflected the strategic importance of the Gulf state’s role in the Middle East.

Despite the latest developments, there have been no updates regarding the delayed approval of Qatar’s requests to purchase four MQ-9b Predator drones from Washington.

Previous reports stated that the US Defense Department reportedly encouraged the sale of over $500 million worth of drones to Qatar despite a delay from the State Department’s end.

While the Pentagon favours the sale, the US State Department has yet to approve the request despite green lighting similar applications from other allies, including the United Arab Emirates.

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