The U.S.-Qatar aviation and defense relationship is one of the long-time defining areas of the bilateral relationship. This sector is expected to remain a best prospect for U.S. businesses for years to come.
Qatar has strengthened its position globally via its national carrier, Qatar Airways. The airline has a strong footprint in the United States, operating twelve direct routes and having a codeshare alliance with American Airlines and partnership with Alaska Airlines. Qatar Airways was the world’s second largest cargo carrier in 2021, having transported over 12% of global cargo payload in 2021, just behind FedEx and ahead of UPS. In 2021, during President Biden’s meeting with the Qatari Amir, Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad Al-Thani, a deal between Boeing and Qatar Airways Group was signed that includes a $20 billion sale of 777 cargo freighters and a $7 billion order for 737 MAX passenger aircraft.
Aviation is an important industry in Qatar for U.S. suppliers. Boeing and Gulf Stream dominate, but other U.S. suppliers provide information technology, ground support equipment, and similar services to Qatar Airways and its hub, Hamad International Airport (HIA).
As Qatar continues to manage an ambitious military modernization program, the Qatar Armed Forces rely on foreign military sales (FMS) and direct commercial sales (DCS). At the U.S. Embassy in Doha, FMS purchases are facilitated through the Office of Military Cooperation, while DCS purchases go through the U.S. Commercial Service. Major purchases since 2014 include Apache helicopters, Javelin missiles, Early Warning Radar, PAC 3 Patriot systems, and F-15-QA fighter aircraft. In late 2021, Qatar received its first set of F-15-QA planes from Boeing. The Qatari military is also sponsoring an initiative to create a vast network of military training facilities and programs focused on supporting its recent defense acquisitions.
Another player in the defense sector in Qatar is Barzan Holdings, launched in March 2018 and wholly owned by the Qatari Ministry of Defense. Barzan Holdings acts as the procurement arm for Qatar’s Ministry of Defense on strategic projects, and has offices and investments outside of Qatar, including in Charleston, South Carolina.
The U.S. military-strategic partnership in Qatar has made great strides since 1992 and is a reliable partner in the region. The United States and Qatar signed a Defense Cooperation Agreement in 1992, which was renewed in 2013 for an additional ten years. Al Udeid Air Base, the largest U.S. airbase in the world outside the continental United States, serves as a forward headquarters for U.S. Central Command and Air Force Central Command. In August-December 2021, Qatar supported the transit of tens of thousands of evacuees from Afghanistan at Al Udeid Air Base, deepening the relationship between Qatar and the United States. In 2022, President Biden designated Qatar as a Major Non-NATO Ally (MNNA), a special designation under U.S. law that provides foreign partners with certain benefits in the areas of defense trade and security cooperation. The MNNA designation is a powerful symbol of the close relationship the United States shares with those countries and demonstrates deep respect, friendship, and partnership between the two countries. While MNNA status provides military and economic privileges, it does not entail any security commitments to the designated country. Nonetheless, U.S. companies stand to benefit from the MNNA because it could increase defense cooperation between the two nations. In November 2021, at the 4th U.S.-Qatar Strategic Dialogue, two accords advancing future partnership on Afghanistan were signed between the U.S. and Qatar: an arrangement for Qatar to Serve as the Protecting Power for U.S. diplomatic and consular interests in Afghanistan and an MOU on Cooperation to Host Individuals at Risk Due to the Situation in Afghanistan. This cooperation will continue indefinitely as the U.S. Embassy in Kabul has officially established its operations within Embassy Doha as the Afghanistan Affairs Unit (AAU).
Sub-Sector Best Prospects
Over the last decade, the most purchased items in the defense sector include anti-ballistic missile systems and a new generation of fighter aircraft. Military electronics and cyber systems, helicopters for special forces teams, light tactical armored vehicles with weapons systems, GBU-35 bunker-buster ammunition to be used against concrete-protected nuclear facilities, guided air-to-air and air-to-ground missiles, helicopters, fighter jets, and air defense systems are also common purchases.
The 2022 budget was centered on security and defense equipment, training, and procuring the technologies needed for safety and security given Qatar’s role as host of the 2022 FIFA World Cup. Any project or initiative not linked to the World Cup, the national priority for 2022, has been postponed until after the event.
Opportunities Training and capacity building programs
- Cyber Security and Electronic Warfare Systems
- Integrated air and missile defense systems
- Navy & Marine defense systems
- Local Manufacturing: To support Qatar’s Vision 2030, the government seeks successful partnerships that can help develop local manufacturing capabilities and transfer knowledge to entities such as Barzan Holdings.
- Doha International Maritime Defense Exhibition and Conference (DIMDEX) 2024; February 5-7, 2024;
Qatar National Convention Centre (QNCC), Qatar
- International Event for Homeland Security and Civil Defense Milipol Qatar 2024; October 29-31, 2024
Doha Exhibition & Convention Center (DECC), Qatar
Contact the Commercial Section of the U.S. Embassy in Qatar