The Royal Air Force’s No. 12 Squadron has flown to Qatar to begin a six-month deployment under Project Thariya. The Typhoon fighter unit, which is jointly staffed by UK and Qatari personnel, is based at the new Tamim Airbase at Dukhan, where it is supporting the Qatar Emiri Air Force (QEAF) as it forms its first Typhoon squadron: No. 7 (Al Thariyat) Squadron within the 1st Tactical Fighter Wing.
The two squadrons will operate together to fly the full range of air policing operations in support of the FIFA World Cup soccer tournament, helping to ensure a safe event for fans from across the world. The tournament begins on November 20, and the final is scheduled for December 18, which is also Qatar’s National Day.
This will be the first-ever World Cup to be staged in the Arab world and only the second World Cup to be held entirely in Asia. The quadrennial competition is traditionally held in June/July, but this year has been scheduled for later in the year to avoid the summer heat in the Gulf nation.
The first four No. 12 Squadron Typhoons left RAF Coningsby in late September, and four more deployed on October 11. They have joined the first four QEAF Typhoons that were delivered in late August and early September, with at least a further four QEAF Typhoons expected to have arrived before the tournament kicks off.
When the government of Qatar and BAE Systems announced on Dec. 11, 2017 that they had entered into a contract for the supply of 24 Eurofighter Typhoon aircraft, a wide-ranging package of training and cooperation was agreed between the British and Qatari Emiri air forces. It included plans to establish No. 12 Squadron as a UK-based joint UK-Qatar Typhoon squadron at RAF Coningsby, Lincolnshire. The new squadron would temporarily integrate Qatari personnel, including pilots and groundcrew, and would provide the QEAF with nearly three years of operational experience flying the Typhoon before receiving its own aircraft.
No. 12 Squadron formally reformed at Horse Guards in London on July 24, 2018, and received its first Typhoon FGR.Mk 4 at Coningsby in July 2019, while the first QEAF personnel arrived in early 2020. Since then, the squadron has made a number of deployments to Qatar, though this will be the first time that the unit has operated from Tamim.
The establishment of the joint squadron was more than just a clever sales support tool and reflects a deep and growing defense relationship. By supporting the QEAF in building its own Typhoon capability, the UK is hoping to boost Qatar’s ability to tackle what are shared security challenges, which will in turn help to protect the safety and security of both UK and Qatari nationals at home and abroad.
It was once expected that the British element of No. 12 Squadron would return to RAF Coningsby at the end of its six-month deployment and would operate as part of the RAF’s front-line Typhoon force, with full RAF staffing, though this now seems less certain. With 16 more QEAF pilots due to undergo Typhoon conversion training at Coningsby, there seems every possibility that they will join No. 12 Squadron prior to returning home to join the new QEAF Typhoon unit.