From fighter jets to anti-UAV technology, Qatar prepares for World Cup security


An aerial view of Lusail Stadium at sunrise on June 20, 2022 in Doha, Qatar. (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)

BEIRUT — With the 2022 FIFA World Cup just months away, Qatar has taken delivery of its first batch of Eurofighter Typhoons, the Gulf nation’s latest major acquisition that will help bolster the competition’s security.

The planes were included in a grand ceremony at Dukhan/Tamim airbase on the western side of the peninsula just a few days ago, which also included F-15QAs, the NH-90 tactical transport helicopter with its naval counterpart and the Rafale fighter.

The Typhoons will be part of the Joint Typhoon Squadron, also known as 12 Squadron, which is operated in partnership with the UK. The squadron will provide aerial security for the cut from November 21 to December 18.

“I am delighted that our joint squadron with the Qatari Emiri Air Force (QEAF) of Typhoons will be patrolling the airspace during the tournament,” British Defense Secretary Ben Wallace said in May.

The planes – which will have an anti-terrorism mission – are the latest addition to the security cordon that Qatar is trying to erect.

There have been no well-known security threats to the country, and Middle East analyst Andrea Krieg said Qatar generally maintains friendly relations even in a volatile region. “This makes it unlikely that any state actor or proxy will attempt to exploit the World Cup for malicious activity,” he said, adding that the country is also well positioned against asymmetric threats such as attacks. terrorists (although the UK recognizes these “cannot be ruled out”).

Yet such a high-profile event requires planning for the worst, and Qatar has worked with international partners and acquired high-tech capabilities to bolster its security in the air, at sea and on the ground. Here’s how:

In the air

Since forming as a joint squadron in June 2020, No. 12 Squadron has trained regularly in Qatar, and the World Cup deployment coincides with a pre-planned deployment, the UK Ministry of Defense said.

The Typhoons themselves are the product of a December 2017 contract between Qatar and BAE Systems to purchase 24 of the jets and nine advanced Hawk Mk 167 formations as part of an $8 billion contract in the total.

The Italian company Leonardo contributes both the airframe and the avionics of the QEAF Eurofighter Typhoon. The Typhoons are equipped with ECRS Mk0 radar and Praetorian DASS – designed to provide protection against air-to-air and ground-to-air threats, by proactively monitoring and responding to the operating environment – and PIRATE IRST (Passive InfraRed Airborne Track Equipment – ​​Infrared Search and Track), both led by Leonardo.

Qatari airspace will be protected by Leonardo’s low-altitude air defense and surveillance system, consisting of a network of Kronos radars and associated command and control centers. The Italian company is responsible for all electronic and meteorological air traffic management equipment at Hamad International Airport, securing the arrival of passengers, players and crowds at the World Cup.

The country is also taking delivery of Leonardo’s NH90 helicopters, thanks to an agreement in August 2018. For these, the French company Thales provides the ENR radar, avionics, EW CATS (Electronic Warfare, Compact Airborne Threat Surveyor for helicopters), radios and data link.

To date, Leonardo has delivered six of the 28 NH90 helicopters in Naval and Tactical versions, and the program is on track. These additions to the Qatar Air Force are operational and flight crews and technicians have received extensive training with support from the Italian Army and Italian Navy.

“As Qatar has one of the largest air forces per territory of any country in the world, the QEAF is well equipped to counter or deter any serious threat to its airspace,” said Krieg, a senior lecturer at King’s College in Qatar. London and CEO of MENA. analytica, a London-based strategic risk consultancy that focuses on the wider Middle East region, adding that NATO will also support the QEAF.

In water

Speaking of the navy, being primarily a peninsula with a single land border to the south with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, for Qatar, ensuring no threats come near the sea is as critical as securing the ‘airspace. Consequently, Qatar has signed numerous contracts in recent years to acquire state-of-the-art vessels equipped with radar and surveillance capabilities.

As part of its investment in security, the Qatari Navy has ordered four Al Zubarah-class corvettes, a landing platform dock and two offshore patrol vessels under a deal signed in 2016 worth of about 5 billion dollars, built by the Italian shipbuilder Fincantieri. The fourth corvette was launched at the end of April this year at the shipyard in Muggiano (La Spezia).

Each of the seven new ships is equipped with Leonardo’s combat and surveillance systems, in particular the command management system which includes the Leonardo 3D AESA Grand Kronos Naval radar, the interrogator and the IFF (Identification Friend or Foe) transponder, an IRST monitoring and tracking suite.

Earlier this year, and during Dimdex 2022, the Qatari Navy signed a new contract with Leonardo to develop a Naval Operations Center (NOC) for military service, the first of its kind in the country. The center ensures that naval forces monitor and control Qatar’s territorial waters, exclusive economic zone and adjacent waters. The center, which will control radars and real-time at-sea tracking, will include electronic warfare systems, but it is currently unclear whether it will be operational in time for the games.

On the ground

Although planes and ships may be used to secure much of the country during the games, security professionals will obviously be particularly concerned with the games themselves, which present targets for asymmetric threats like terrorism or simply uncontrollable crowds.

“As with any mass sporting event, the biggest risks during the World Cup relate to crowd control,” Krieg said. “The presence of large crowds spread across a single city like Doha will lead to several risks of crowd mobilization, rioting and potentially fighting. Mass panics could break out when a large number of people suddenly move into a fairly confined space.

“Qatari law enforcement along with their multiple partners around the world have trained for such events and are well prepared in crowd control.”

Krieg noted that the cut will bring together citizens of rival or even adversarial nations — Israelis, Saudis and Iranians, for example — which increases the risk of an incident.

“It could lead to animosities in Doha,” he said.

To this end, some of the most critical technologies expected to be employed by Qatar include information gathering, surveillance and intelligence systems.

Kreig said Qatar has “developed an extensive integrated surveillance network complete with audio-visual sensors, drones and video surveillance which feeds into the National Security Center”. Here, potential risks are assessed and potentially engaged before threats materialize. These Thales airborne and maritime systems are also integrated on the ground there, Krieg said.

In close proximity to the stadium, Qatar is also working with Utah-based Fortem Technologies on counter-drone strategies, the company announced in July.

Fortem CEO Timothy Bean told Breaking Defense that their system, known as SkyDome, is “the best in the world with kinetic defeat when low collateral damage is needed.” The system includes the DroneHunter, which, as the name suggests, literally hunts other drones in the sky and eliminates them by shooting a specialized net, tying down the threat, and dragging it to a designated location.

Bean did not respond to questions about the number of systems deployed to secure stadiums and games, or give details of the system’s testing in Qatar or its interoperability with the country’s existing radars and data-sharing networks. . Instead, he simply said that Qatar had done everything possible to ensure a wonderful experience” and had also “carefully planned the safety of its guests”.

Krieg, for his part, thought that like some of the air and sea security preparations, drone defense was unlikely to see much action, perhaps beyond rogue private drones.

“Anti-drone systems are in place but will be directed against the use of private drones where appropriate,” he said. “There will be drone-free settings around and in stadiums, where the use of drones will be prohibited.”

For a more exotic but potentially much deadlier threat, NATO announced in June that it would provide support including “training against threats posed by chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear (CBRN) materials”, which will be provided by Slovakia and NATO’s joint CBRN defence. center in the Czech Republic.

Other support will include training for VIP protection and counter-IED capabilities, courtesy of Romania.

Finally, last week it was reported that Pakistan may provide troops to Qatar to bolster security.

In light of all of the above, in Krieg’s view, there are relatively few threats to the 2022 games, whether from a nation state, proxy, terrorist group or just rowdy crowds.


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