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Industry: Potential $20 Billion U.S. Naval Sale to Saudi Arabia Picking Up Steam

Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) Adm. Jonathan Greenert meets with heads of the Royal Saudi Naval Forces (RSNF) in 2013. US Navy Photo

Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) Adm. Jonathan Greenert meets with heads of the Royal Saudi Naval Forces (RSNF) in 2013. US Navy Photo

The $20 billion dollar recapitalization of Saudi Arabia’s eastern fleet is beginning to pick up steam again after several years of being a dormant U.S. Foreign Military Sales (FMS) program, several U.S. shipbuilding industry officials have told USNI News.

The FMS case for the replacement of the Royal Saudi Navy’s Eastern Fleet of aging American warships – Saudi Naval Expansion Program II (SNEP II) – has been languishing for years as the Saudis and Americans negotiate the requirements for the ships.

But several industry officials have told USNI News there maybe some movement toward finalizing requirements for the ship deal that would be a welcome boon to U.S. shipbuilders faced with tight Pentagon budgets.

“It does seem to me that there seems to be some renewed interest in moving forward and [creating] a more realistic view of requirements that would be more suitable to their navy and the areas that they operate,” Dale P. Bennett, executive vice president of Lockheed Martin’s Mission Systems and Training (MST), told USNI News during an interview on Wednesday.
“I sense things are starting to gel a little bit but nothing concrete, there’s no [Request for Proposal] on the street or anything.”

Other industry sources told USNI News they expect a RFP for the replacement of the Eastern Fleet in the coming months.

Potential movement on the FMS case follows a December contract award for Lockheed Martin MK-41 Vertical Launch Systems (VLS) that included a set-aside for Saudi Arabia in the amount of approximately $93.8 million. The launchers are used to fire missiles from U.S. guided missile cruisers and destroyers, the new Aegis Ashore ballistic missile defense (BMD) installations and in U.S. allied navy ships.

The Saudi’s currently do not use the MK-41 systems in any of their ships.

The U.S. Navy International Program Office (NIPO) did not provide details on the MK-41 sale to USNI News saying the office wouldn’t comment on ongoing FMS cases.

Lockheed, Independence-class Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) builder Austal USA, General Dynamics Bath Iron Works (BIW) and Huntington Ingalls Industries (HII) have all expressed interest in the SNEP II program.

What ships will be needed for the buy have yet to be determined.

“What kind of requirement do they really need given all the other things that they have and have aspirations for and their ability to man the ship and fight the ship?” Bennett said.

“The requirements have been moving around, [It’s been] let’s go to a DDG-51 for awhile, [then] let’s go back to an LCS.”

Lockheed will likely offer a version of the Freedom-class LCS. In response to a question on SNEP II on Wednesday, company officials said they had recently met with unspecified countries to discuss the capabilities of an international Freedom variant.

Austal has previously told USNI News they were interested in the business with a version of the Independence.

USNI News understands that HII is pitching variant of its Legend-class cutter built for the U.S. Coast Guard – billed as a patrol frigate.

In 2011, reports indicated that the Saudis were interested in acquiring Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyers (DDG-51), which would make BIW a competitor as well.

The program is not just ships and will likely include improvements to the Saudi Eastern Fleet’s homeport in Jubail on the Persian Gulf.

“This massive purchase could include destroyers, patrol craft, helicopters, ground vehicles and other platforms, as well as warehouses and substantial upgrades to port infrastructure,” read an October U.S. Army Corps of Engineers briefing.

  • PolicyWonk

    It would be most surprising if the Saudis bought any/either version of the LCS, even the newer ones, because they already turned them down flat due to high costs and poor ROI. Another problem with LCS (either variant), is how do you arm/protect something that Adm. Greenert himself admitted was never intended to venture into harms way?

    A naval arms specialist tried to speculate how LCS/SSC/FF could be up-armed (article on Breaking Defense), and only came up with a list of very unattractive options. Bottom line: its hard to arm/protect a ship that wasn’t built/designed to be armed or protected.

    And then there’s the recent report from DOT&E, that announced that even the LCS-redux, a.k.a. “Fast Frigate”, would only get minimal/incremental enhancements in protection and armament, at a cost that exceeds those of our allies high-end frigates.

    Outside of the the LCS cheerleaders at LockMart, Austal, and the denizens of the project office that oversaw this corporate welfare program: LCS/SCC/FF has few fans; and, zero favorable reviews from any of our watchdog agencies – and that includes a scathing report from the US navy’s inspector generals office.

    If I were Lockheed or Austal, the smart money would seemingly indicate that this isn’t the time to bet the mortgage on new business from the Saudis. If the Saudis need a new frigate, HII’s up-armed/armored NCS design is a vastly better option.

    • KAB

      I hope the Saudi’s go with a frigate based on the NSC. Right now too many officials probably see it as an idea on paper, so they just want to stick with the ship that is already in production. If the Saudi’s buy it and it actually goes into production the LCS stops being the only game in town. It may just be wishful thinking on my part, but that might be enough to convince enough members of congress and the pentagon to go with the patrol frigate rather than an “improved” (but still pretty crappy) LCS.

  • canadian2011

    As long as politicians keep taking Arab money this garbage will keep going on. With their human rights record and 9/11 participation, they are nobody’s friend.

  • old guy

    Great opportunity to dump the LCS on somebody, and while we’re at it sell them the 3 DD1000s and a flight of V-22s, But get the $$$$ from them and not some US foreign aid bucks. Use the money to develop some really useful ships and compound helos.

  • jack anderson

    National Security Cutter configured with Mk41VLS

  • Zameer Ahmed

    I think Sisi said the right thing. Muslim need effective armed forces to
    stop any aggression in their territory. They need powerful force.
    Muslim need their own great army to fight the Iran and India which
    possess great problem in the gulf countries. The Israel is the also big
    problem. Arab country should step forward to make bigger and more
    improve army to take on India, Israel and Indian bustard.

    • Navyjag907

      India is a threat to Saudi Arabia? What is he talking about?

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  • Zameer Ahmed

    God bless Saudi. India currently is no 1 threat to Saudi. So be wise Israel is not only enemy of Arab state. Indian motherchud also are bigger threat to Arab state. So do whatever but destroy india.

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