Qatar’s New Air Defense Corvette Starts Sea Trials
Luca Peruzzi contributed to this story and was on site, in the Gulf of La Spezia along with Italian ship photographer Giorgio Arra.
This event follows the launch of the first-of-class Musherib OPV (Q 61) last September. The FoC multirole corvette (with a focus on air defense) is to be delivered in 2021 while the FoC OPV will follow in 2022 according to Fincantieri. The latter is working hard to mitigate the production slowdown caused by the national lockdown period in the first year’s half and the follow-on restrictions due the pandemic.
While we recently wrote about the vessel, the first seagoing of the Al Zubarah corvette allowed us for the first time to have a look to the ship’s design and capabilities. Due to the pandemic and the connected restrictions the new warship was launched last February with a private ceremony and only few official images were released since the first steel cut ceremony in July 2018 and the dry dock work launch in November 2018.
Al Zubarah-class specifications
With a full load displacement of circa 3,250 tonnes, a length and beam of respectively 107 and 14.7 meters, the new Al Zubarah-class corvettes feature a CODAD configured propulsion system based on four diesel engines connected through reduction gears to two shaft lines with variable pitch propellers and conventional rudders providing a maximum continuous and cruising speed of respectively 28 and 15 knots.
With such compact dimensions and displacement, and a crew core of 98 members plus accommodation for additional 14 units, the new platform present a sophisticated and robust combat system with a full range of weapons for anti-air warfare (AAW) and anti-surface warfare (ASuW) operations while the platform anti-submarine warfare (ASW) capabilities are limited to self-defense, although the ship can accommodate and operate a NH90 NFH maritime helicopter which can be equipped with an ASW suite including lightweight torpedoes.
Al Zubarah-class corvette weapon systems
The first seagoing platform images confirm the ship design showed in models during the DIMDEX 2018 defense exhibition. The armament package include a 76/62 mm Multi-Feeding Super Rapido main calibre gun and a 16-cell VLS (identified by Naval News as two 8-cell Naval Group A50 systems) for surface-to air missile in the bow area. The VLSs are to operate MBDA Aster 30 Block 1 munitions, according to MBDA press statement released with contract award as part of the MBDA SAAM-ESD missile system including a C2 suite and working together with the ship’s 3D multi-function radar. Naval News has identified the latter as the Leonardo Grand Kronos Naval AESA radar positioned on top of the main mast similarly to the SAAM-ESD family of systems installed on board Italian and foreign navies’ vessels. The ship is also equipped as showed by empty canisters for two 4-cell launchers for MM40 Exocet Block 3 anti-ship missiles positioned amidship between the two funnels and self-defense weapons and the anti-torpedo decoy launchers.
The corvette also features a close in weapon system (CIWS) based on RAM Mk 49 guided missile launcher on top of the hangar with a 21-cell for the RAM missiles, of which the QNEF has acquired the RAM Block 2 version. Inner-layer protection against both conventional and asymmetric air and surface threats is provided by two Leonardo Marlin-WS 30 mm remote controlled gun systems as identified by Naval News and positioned on both side of the ship.
Al Zubarah-class corvette combat management system
The combat system is based on a Leonardo command management system (CMS) which Naval News has identified as part of the ATHENA family of systems which manages a comprehensive communications suite including secure radios, tactical data links (Link 11, 16, JREAP, Link Y and fitted for Link 22) and satellite communications according to shipbuilder documentation, the antennas of the latter are distributed on the superstructures and the secondary mast.
Al Zubarah-class corvette sensor systems
The CMS also manages a robust sensors suite including the Leonardo 3D AESA Grand Kronos Naval radar, IFF interrogator and transponder, an IRST surveillance and tracking suite including two Leonardo SASS systems as identified by Naval News and positioned respectively on top of the bridge and the right side of the hangar structure and a complete EW suite. Naval News has identified the latter as provided by Elettronica group including last generation RESM/CESM and RECM systems with antennas positioned mainly on the main mast and on the hangar left side, similarly to Italian Navy’s ships.
The main gun fire control system antenna identified by Naval News as the Leonardo NA-30S Mk 2 dual-band radar-EO/IR system positioned over the bridge together with navigation radars provided by Kelvin Hughes and installed also on board the Musherib-class OPV.
The two 30 mm secondary guns are each controlled by a Leonardo Medusa Mk4B EO/IR FCS while passive self-protection is offered by a suite of decoy launchers. Naval News has identified Lacroix Defence Sylena launchers on top of the bridge while Leonardo anti-torpedo decoy launchers are positioned amidship on each ship side. The latter are part, Naval News understood, of the torpedo alert, tracking and decoy suite including a towed array torpedo detection system as indicated by Fincantieri documentation and which Naval News has identified as Leonardo Black Snake system. According to Fincantieri open source documentation, the ship is also equipped with a Thesan obstacle and mine avoidance sonar also provided by Leonardo, according to the latter press statement released with contract award for the integrated supply of the combat system and sub-systems supplier.
About Qatar’s contract with Fincantieri
For the record, a global order worth 5 billion euros (including 1 billion for missiles) was announced in August 2017. In addition to four air defense corvettes, the contract includes the construction of two OPV/FACM type ships based on the Falaj 2-class (selected by the UAE Navy) and an air defense LPD (fitted with long range L-band radar and ASTER 30 SAM) based on the “BDSL Kalaat Beni Abbes” (143 meters long, 9,000 tonnes displacement), which was delivered in 2015 by Fincantieri to Algeria.