Washington (AFP) - Qatar plans to buy US Patriot missile batteries and Apache attack helicopters in a major arms deal worth about $11 billion, senior Pentagon officials said Monday.
The sale would provide Qatar with roughly ten batteries for Patriot systems designed to knock out incoming missiles, as well as 24 Apache helicopters and 500 Javelin anti-tank missiles, officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told AFP.
Qatar was investing in missile defense systems to counter what it sees as the threat from Iran across the Gulf, as Tehran has built up its missile arsenal, officials said.
The weapons deal was the biggest for the United States in 2014 and came as Qatar weighs proposals in a fighter jet competition, with US aerospace firm Boeing vying against British BAE Systems and Dassault Aviation of France.
"It's a good sign," said a senior defense official, referring to the arms sale and the prospects for the fighter jet bidding.
"It's a pretty significant step."
Qatar's minister of state for defense, Major General Hamad bin Ali al-Attiyah, committed to the sale in a signing ceremony Monday in Washington after talks with his American counterpart, Chuck Hagel.
The United States wants to preserve its role as "the defense provider of choice" for Qatar and other Gulf states, the official said.
It was also the first time Qatar had acquired Patriot missiles, which other Gulf countries such as Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, have purchased in the past.
US officials and commanders have long urged their Gulf partners to set up a coordinated missile defense network to counter Iran but cooperation has been slow in coming.
The weapons would enhance America's security and diplomatic ties to Qatar, the US official said, despite some disagreement over Syria and Qatar's assistance to some rebel groups deemed too radical by Washington.
The Pentagon portrays arms sales as a way of forging closer ties to friendly countries and cultivating relationships with another military through training on US-made aircraft and weapons.
"This is an investment in the next generation (of military leaders)...It's an investment for the long-run," the senior official said.
The sale follows a visit to Qatar last December by the US defense secretary, and talks in May between Hagel and Qatari and other Gulf defense chiefs.
Qatar hosts a vital hub for the US military, the Combined Air Operations Center, where officers oversee combat aircraft in Afghanistan and track air traffic across the volatile Middle East.
Arms sales also are a way of boosting the US economy, and the deal with Qatar is expected to produce up to 54,000 jobs, according to estimates cited by Pentagon officials.
US defense giants Raytheon and Lockheed Martin manufacture the Patriot missile hardware and Javelin anti-tank missiles, while Boeing produces the AH-64 Apache chopper.
The Patriot missile sale, involving 247 PAC-3 missiles, was worth more than seven billion dollars, the Apache helicopters and related gear came to more than $3 billion and the Javelin anti-tank missiles over $100 million, according to officials.
Qatar took the extraordinary step last year of delaying a deadline for proposals by three months in its fighter jet competition after the United States asked for an extension.
The oil-rich kingdom wants to buy a new fleet of modern fighter jets and BAE is offering the Typhoon while Dassault Aviation hopes Qatar will select the Rafale aircraft. Boeing is promoting F-18 Super Hornets and F-15 fighters.
Qatar currently has an aging fleet of 12 Dassault Mirage warplanes.