The Qatar Early Warning Radar (EWR) contract was granted to Raytheon in early 2017 for $1.06 billion, with an expected completion date of mid-2021. Since then, the contract has been modified, with the latest modification being a $78.1 million deal for contractor logistic support for an additonal five years. The contract's total value is now $1.21 billion, but what exactly are the Qataris paying for?
The below articles discuss the recent contract modification details and make mention of the "Qatari missile defense shield."
First of all, in nearly any context, the term "missile defense shield" is often extremely misleading. Even the United States, with its Ground-based Midcourse Defense (GMD) system, the only system in the world designed to protect against intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), does not truly have a "missile defense shield." The U.S. GMD system and Israel's layered missile defense system may be the closest things to a "missile defense shield," but are still far from it, as nothing has a 100% success rate. Even if a system were 100% effective, there are always more threat missiles than there are enough interceptors for defense.
Qatar currently has the Patriot air and missile defense system, which is designed to defend against short- to medium-range ballistic missiles. This properly coincides with the threat they may face from Iran, due to its proximity. Qatar has been interested in acquiring THAAD (longer range than Patriot) and NASAMS (shorter range, but cannot intercept ballistic missiles - only aircraft, drones, and cruise missiles). These systems will help the layered defense concept, but, Early Warning Radar or not, are not even close to a "missile defense shield."
Depending on where an Iranian missile is launched from, this EWR could potentially provide additional seconds of advance notice to Patriot operators. Is this worth the cost? With this new radar, the Qataris are paying for defense, but not in the traditional sense. Contrary to the advertised purpose of this massive long-range radar, its detection capabilities will very likely not assist Qatar if they are ever attacked by Iran with ballistic missiles. The below article details the initial radar deal, its capabilities, and what it supposedly provides Qatar:
The radar is designed to detect "'sea-launched or intercontinental ballistic missiles' at a range of up to 3,000 miles (4,828 km)." Why does Qatar need defense against such long-range missiles if their threat is Iran, directly across the Persian Gulf? Will Iran deploy submarine-launched ballistic missiles against Qatar from the Gulf? Highly unlikely. Is Qatar concerned about an ICBM attack from Russia or China? This is also highly unlikely. Iran does not yet have a proven ICBM, and even if they did, they would not use it against Qatar, nor could Patriot intercept it. The radar does have 360 degree capability and could detect launches in all three of the aforementioned countries at the same time. But this does not directly benefit Qatari defense. The article continues, “The acquisition of this air defense system would provide a permanent defensive capability to the Qatar Peninsula as well as protection of the economic infrastructure and well-being of Qatar.” (True statement for reasons explained below; however, the radar is for missile defense only, as "air defense" typically refers to aircraft and drones.) To claim that this radar is necessary or useful for Qatari missile defense is comparable to claiming THAAD systems placed along the west coast of the United States will defend against an ICBM attack from North Korea.
The greatest beneficiary of the Qatar Early Warning Radar's data is the United States. The United States will inevitably link this radar into its global ballistic missile defense system and could even link it into the GMD system to assist in defense of the U.S. homeland, similar to the same type of 360 degree radar currently present in Fylingdales, United Kingdom. More importantly, with its three radar faces, the radar provides intelligence gathering capability to detect and observe Iranian, Russian, and Chinese test missile launches. This is the true purpose of this radar.
Qatar benefits greatly by receiving permanent U.S. protection, as the United States will not want to lose this valuable asset in their country. In turn, Qatar, which already hosts U.S. troops and military bases, will continue its history of using the United States' reliance on its prime location to engage in less than friendly acts, such as engaging Russia for potential procurement of their S-400 missile defense system or allegedly harboring or assisting terrorist organizations. Qatar is able to get away with this flexible, more adventurous, foreign policy because it knows the United States is reliant on it due to the massive investments in assets it has in Qatar. Turkey, a NATO ally and host of an American radar, acts with similar impunity. The more the United States relies on the precious data it receives from this radar, the more it will turn a blind eye to Qatar's policies.
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