Qatari shipbuilder joins forces with L3Harris, debuts Suhail USV at DIMDEX 2024

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Suhail USV, developed by Qatari Performance Marine and L3 Harris ASV, displayed at Dimdex 2024 in Doha.

The Suhail USV, developed by Qatari Performance Marine and L3Harris ASV, displayed at DIMDEX 2024 in Doha. (Agnes Helou / Breaking Defense)

DIMDEX 2024 — Qatari private-owned firm Performance Marine has teamed up with L3Harris to develop unmanned surface vessel Suhail, which made its debut at Dimdex 2024.

The unmanned surface vessel will undergo sea demonstrations for the Qatari Emiri Navy after Ramadan, around mid-April, in hopes of gaining a contract, business development manager Robert Curtis of L3Harris ASV UK told Breaking Defense.

Performance Marine Chairman Hassan Bin Jabor Al-Thani told Breaking Defense that Suhail is the first fully autonomous USV completely built in Doha.

Beyond Performance Marine supplying the 39-foot ship itself to which L3Harris added up to fully autonomous capabilities, the USV shown on the floor was equipped with Norwegian Kongsberg on-board remote weapons system, Simrad radar as well as FLIR cameras.

“We are specialized with customized boats, and have built high-speed interceptors for Qatari Special Forces,” Al-Thani said, adding that Suhail has acquired all required licensing and legal aspects.

L3Harris’s Curtis highlighted that the UK subsidiary develops platforms not subject to International Traffic in Arms Regulations. “For instance, [if] we install equipment that has ITAR on it, we have to get ITAR export approved. Otherwise, if it’s just a UK capability with no ITAR, we just have to get normal export [license] and approval for this [USV] in two weeks time.”

L3Harris has similar cooperation agreement with the Emirati firm Al Seer Marine, where it has integrated its autonomous capabilities on Al Seer Marine’s Arabian Fox USV. That ship has passed the testing phase and was expected to be operational in the first quarter of 2024 with US Naval Forces Central Command, as Breaking Defense reported.

At the DIMDEX naval expo here in Qatar, USVs were exhibited prominently, whether as full scale platforms or as mockups and models, showing how the nature of naval battles have changed in light of recent conflicts, including in the Red Sea.

Qatari Government-owned Barzan Holdings displayed an unmanned surface vessel on its stand that is built by Singapore’s ST Engineering firm. The Qatari firm is developing the command and control center (C2) that links the USV with unmanned ground vehicles and unmanned aerial vehicles, which was shown in demonstration videos from trials in Doha.

Also on display are a number of USV mockups by Turkish firms, which have an outsized presence at Dimdex as the nation has at other Middle East defense shows. While the Turkish firms have on display these mockups, representatives from many firms agree that this technology is new and needs to be understood well before being operated by countries in the region.

No USV deals have been signed so far at DIMDEX 2024, but their prevalence on the floor is a clear indication that interest is well above the water line.