Naval News has done a couple of posts on a pair of Offshore Patrol Vessels (OPV) built in Italy for the Qatar Emiri Naval Forces by Fincantieri (owner of Marinette Marine in Wisconsin):
- Qatar’s New Musherib-Class OPV Starts Sea Trials, 6 April, 2021
- Fincantieri Delivers Second Musherib-Class OPV To Qatar, 8 July, 2022
These are not your typical OPV. They look more like FAC(M) i.e fast attack craft, missile, but they trace their linage back through the UAE’s Falag 2 class to the Italian Coast Guard’s Diciotti class. Let’s compare to a typical OPV and talk about why they are so different.
First what is a typical OPV?
- Displacement: at least 1,500 tons full load, typically less than 3,000
- Length: at least 75 meters (246 ft), typically less than 100 meters (328 ft)
- Range: at least 3500 nautical miles, typically 5,000 or more
- Endurance: at least three weeks
- Speed: 20-25 knots
- Aviation: At least flight deck for medium helicopter
- Boats: at least two RHIB of 7 meters or larger
- Weapons: one deck gun of 76mm or less plus two to four guns .50 cal to 30mm guns with one or two typically mounted in remote weapon stations. Anti-Ship Cruise missiles are rare and Anti-Aircraft missile systems more capable than MAPADS rarer still.
Examples include ships building or in service with Argentina, Australia, Britain, India, Japan, Malta, the Philippines, Singapore, Türkiye, the Fassmar designs used by Chile, Colombia, and German, and Damen designs used by Malaysia, the Netherlands, Pakistan, and Vietnam.
The 270 foot Bear class WMECs fit the profile pretty well, if you ignore the fact they can’t quite reach 20 knots. In some respects they are still more sophisticated that some of the newer OPVs.
The 210 foot Reliance class WMECs fall outside the current norm, being smaller and slower than typical, but they otherwise fit the profile. Of course even the newest is 53 years old.
Now let us compare the new Qatar OPV.
Their range is only 1500 nautical miles at 15 knots, that is even less than that of the smaller Webber class cutters’ 2500 at 14 knots. Their seven day endurance is more typical of the smaller Inshore Patrol Vessel class. As a patrol vessel, it is closer to the Webber class WPCs than even the Reliance class.
Geography is the reason. Qatar’s coast line is only 563 km and its EEZ is 31,819 sq km (that of the US is 11,351,000 sq km, 357 times greater). They just don’t have to go very far. It may also be that these ships will be used more in reaction than as actual patrol vessels.
Full load displacement is 725 tonnes, with a length of 63.80 (209 feet) (59.60 meters or 195.5 feet between the perpendiculars) and a beam of 9.20 meters/30 feet. This makes them smaller than the Reliance class and only about half the size of the smallest of the typical OPVs. Rough seas are probably less of a concern than in more open areas.
Their speed of 30 knots, rather than the typical 20 to 25, also seems to suggest their role is one of rapid reaction rather than persistant patrolling.
Unlike most modern OPVs, there is no apparent provision for supporting aviation assets, not even UAS. That is presumably because land based air is always close.
The OPV has a stern area with crane for launch and recovery of a RHIB. This is not an arrangement that suggests the boat would be used frequently or that boat ops is a high priority.
“…in addition to the NA-30S Mk2 FCS for the Leonardo Super Rapido 76/62 mm Multi-Feeding main calibre gun, the Leonardo-provided EO/IR suite also includes two SASS IRSTs and a single Medusa Mk4B FCS for the two 30 mm Marlin-WS secondary gun systems. The missile armament package also includes two four-cell VLSs for the MBDA VL MICA surface-to-air system in the bow area and two twin-launchers for the MBDA Exocet MM40 Block 3 anti-ship missiles in the stern area.”
The Persian Gulf is a rough neighborhood. Qatar faces Iran across the relatively narrow Gulf. Potentially hostile craft are always close. Shore based anti-ship cruise missiles are always within range. Iranian surface units are at most only hours away, aircraft and missiles only minutes.
The vertical launch MICA missile system and Super Rapid 76mm gun provide credible defense against aircraft and cruise missiles.
While normally I would not feel four Exocets would be enough to provide two salvos of adequate size, against the potential Iranian opposition, four are probably adequate for two engagements.
It is not surprising these ships are better armed than any US Coast Guard cutter, including the more than six times larger National Security Cutters. They may be the most heavily armed “OPVs” in the world.
Two four-cell VLSs for the MBDA VL MICA surface-to-air system mounted between the bridge and a Leonardo 76mm gun forward. Picture by Luca Peruzzi