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New Saudi Frigate Design Details Emerge

Lockheed Martin Multi-Mission Surface Combatant model. USNI News Photo

Lockheed Martin Multi-Mission Surface Combatant model. USNI News Photo

NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. — The frigate Saudi Arabia will use as the backbone of its planned Eastern Fleet expansion will feature an expanded anti-air and anti-surface capability over the Lockheed Martin Freedom-class template, USNI News has learned.

The frigate will be built around a 16 Mk 41 vertical launch cells capable of fielding the Raytheon Enhanced SeaSparrow Missiles (ESSM) or Raytheon SM-2 and an Airbus TRS-4D active electronically scanned array (AESA) air search radar suite, according to a model of Lockheed Martin’s international multi-mission surface combatant at the company’s booth at Navy League’s Sea-Air-Space Exposition 2016.

“It has some of the same components as a [Littoral Combat Ship], especially from the propulsion train but as you look at some of the combat system we have some international content for different vendors that are out there,” Joe DePietro, Lockheed’s LCS international director told USNI News on Tuesday.

DePietro indicated the model wasn’t tailored to a specific international customer, but two industry sources with an understanding of the ongoing negotiations between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia for the Saudi Naval Expansion Program II (SNEP II) told USNI News the load out seen in the model was the same configuration offered to the Royal Saudi Navy.

The primary difference between the international frigate layout and the Littoral Combat Ship is the lack of modular reconfigurable mission space.

The Saudi guided missile frigate is 387 feet long, about nine feet longer than the Freedom-class template. It has the same combined diesel and gas propulsion configuration – two Rolls Royce MT-30 gas turbines and two Colt-Pielstick diesel engines connected through a combining gear.

At the bow, the 57mm deck gun has been swapped for a larger 76mm main deck gun. Additional weapon systems include launchers for eight Boeing RGM-84 Harpoon anti-ship missiles, port and starboard 20 mm remote gun mounts. The ship is outfitted with port and starboard torpedo tube launchers capable of firing Mk 46 heavyweight torpedoes. The ship also features a Raytheon SeaRAM Anti-Ship Missile Defense System

Lockheed Martin Multi-Mission Surface Combatant model. USNI News Photo

Lockheed Martin Multi-Mission Surface Combatant model. USNI News Photo

The reconfigurable mission space forward of the boat area has been converted into machinery spaces and the boat launch itself is able to accommodate an 11-meter rigid hull inflatable boat. On either side of the boat launch of the ship are spaces where the ship can launch a variable depth towed sonar passive or active array and a towed AN/SLQ-25 Nixie torpedo decoy system.

The configuration can field a crew of 110 to 130. At 10 knots the ship has a range of about 5,000 nautical miles and can reach speeds in excess of 30 knots, DePietro said.

In October, the U.S. State department released a notification to Congress for a $11.25 billion foreign military sales case based on the Freedom-class.

“This acquisition will enhance the stability and maritime security in the sea areas around the Arabian Peninsula and support strategic objectives of the United States,” read the notification. “The proposed sale will provide Saudi Arabia with an increased ability to meet current and future maritime threats from enemy weapon systems. The Multi-Mission Surface Combatant ships will provide protection-in- depth for critical industrial infrastructure and for the sea lines of communication.”

However, following the initial notification, Saudi Arabia allegedly “balked at the price tag for the [four ship] package – thought to be more than $3 billion but less than $4 billion – and were unhappy with the time it would take to complete detail design of the ships, carry out systems integration, build the vessels, deliver them and install infrastructure improvements in the kingdom,” reported Defense News.

The total value of SNEP II is estimated at around $20 billion.

  • ElmCityAle

    An excellent template for the US Navy’s Frigate program, rather than the limited upgrades proposed to the base LCS config. Might want to add NSM instead of Harpoon, or perhaps 4 of each.

    • El_Sid

      Note the cost though – even the Saudis are running away from a unit cost of $750m-$1bn, and a total cost of $2.8bn/unit once you include missiles and support.

      • airider

        LCS with its mission packages (which the Saudi’s forwent since they wanted it all integrated from the start) is almost the same cost. If you want a frigate with full multi-mission capability, it’s going to be in the $750M-$1000M range. Just look at any other options available today.

        • El_Sid

          FY16 is buying 3 LCS hulls for $1,411m, so $470m each. Saudi costs exclude things like helicopters – sorry, the “aviation module” – and won’t be doing MCM, so you’re looking at mebbe $50m for the equivalent module. Still means that you’re paying 44-92% more per hull for a Saudi “frigate” versus an LCS + module – and that frigate is still based on a Freedom, with all the advantages and limitations of that platform.

          Having said that, the Saudis are probably one of the navies most likely to be able to use the speed (to reduce the likelihood of USS Pueblo-type incidents against Iran) and are less affected by the short range, so it’s not a terrible choice for them.

          I know proper frigates of the kind often advocated for the USN cost serious money, it’s just that some here think they can have their cake and eat it when trading capability versus cost.

          • airider

            Those are valid points, but don’t leave out the other options the Saudi’s are asking for that aren’t even included in the base LCS today. All of those upgrades require sunk costs in R&D to integrate them which raises the overall program costs and subsequent unit costs. Making the proposed changes to the hull and incorporation of VLS and other features are non-trivial.

            It also looks like with the reduction in speed, they may go “back” to a traditional propeller design and get rid of the waterjets….CODAG has been used in this way on many other ships in the past.

          • @USS_Fallujah

            Comparing the USN per unit cost with the package sale is apples to oranges. In a deal like this more than half the cost is training, support and spares. You’re still looking at something around $3B for 4 FFGs, so $750m each is probably a good ballpark number to start from.

          • El_Sid

            The article explicitly mentions a cost of $3-4bn for the ships as part of the wider $11.25bn deal (Google DSCA kingdom-saudi-arabia-multi-mission-surface-combatant-mmsc-ships), hence $750m-$1bn.

          • @USS_Fallujah

            The 4 FFG package is ~$6b. The Saudis are buying a bunch of other stuff too, Helicopters for one….

  • Curtis Conway

    “The OTO Melara 76 mm gun is a naval artillery piece built and designed by the Italian defence … (known within Italian Navy as SPG-73)…” (Wiki) which is a Gunfire Control System. It’s 76 mm gun, or its something new, which I don’t see the Saudis doing.

    • Horn

      The model appears to show the OTO Melara 76mm Super Rapid in a stealth cupola. It’s been around for a while.

      • Steve Skubinna

        First time I saw that specific model was in the JMSDF Hayabusa class missile boats. Since then it’s popped up on lots of other designs (all foreign, since the USN has dropped it in favor of the Bofors 57mm).

  • RobM1981

    On paper it seems as if those 9 feet buy a lot of capability. Money does, too.

    Harpoon might not be cutting edge, but it’s what we have. To build a combatant, even a “littoral” combatant without it in this era has always struck many of us as incredible. The missile is containerized for a reason, and that reason is “you can add it to just about anything that will hold it.” To spend the money to put Hellfire, and not Harpoon, onboard was always irritating. You aren’t going to sink much with a Hellfire, and you have to be mighty close before you can even engage.

    VLS is an obvious and excellent idea, and is notably absent in LCS. Again, why develop such a great deployment technology and then not use it?

    The photo shows CIWS, which I don’t believe is on the US variants.

    • US variant (at least one of them) have RAM if I’m not wrong.

      Harpoon seems to be going strong in terms of exports.

      • Horn

        The Independence-class have SeaRAM equipped while the Freedom-class have the RIM-116 RAM equipped.

      • RobM1981

        Harpoon is an interesting weapon. It certainly takes a lot of abuse, here an in other forums, as being too old – but it’s what we don’t know that interests me… but is none of my business.

        We know that it is subsonic, and thus it will arrive at its target later than an incoming supersonic missile if they are both launched at the same time. We are told that it has a hefty warhead, and that’s probably accurate.

        Range? We know what’s published. Maybe that’s conservative, maybe not.

        Detectability, evasiveness, etc.? None of our business. We all keep saying that it’s too vulnerable because it’s slow, and that may be true… but maybe not. None of our business.

        One thing we also know: it can be mounted on just about anything.

        I’m glad to see it being exported to friends. Hopefully it’s still a very effective platform.

        • Ken N

          Harpoon has received a lot of updates over the years..although its published 75mi range is definitely a sore spot. But take the SLAM-ER. Its an air launched cruise missile the Navy uses. Its based off the Harpoon with lots of new tech added..but they also increased the range to about 170mi.

        • TransformerSWO

          I’d say the biggest problem with Harpoon is that it will hit what it detects down range – not necessarily what you wanted to hit. Great OTH targeting data is really helpful – no one wants to hit the neutral merchant ship by mistake.

          • Secundius

            The AGM-84E Harpoon/SLAM-ER Block I/E, SLAM-ATA Block I/F and Block II’s can be Pre-Programmed to Hit a Specific Land Target…

          • TransformerSWO

            We have TLAMs for land targets. We need the Harpoon (and preferably, something better) for anti-surface warfare. Plenty of ways to kill land targets – so easy, the Air Force can do it.

          • Secundius

            If you can Program a TLAM to Hit A Specific Target on LAND, you Can Do the Same at SEA. Missile is Targeting by GPS Coordinates…

          • TransformerSWO

            Not for moving targets like ships.

          • Secundius

            Correct me if I wrong? But wasn’t a Tomahawk TLAM used against a Moving Land Target. The Surface Median may be Different, but the Same Methodology Still Applies…

        • KiwiRob

          Would you really consider Saudi Arabia as a friend? They’re a client state at best.

    • Ken N

      Its not CIWS..Its SeaRam. It uses the same radar as CIWS though hence the similarity.

      • Horn

        SeaRAM is a CIWS. CIWS stands for “close-in weapons system,” which SeaRAM is a missile version of. The Phalanx would be considered a gun version of CIWS.

        • Ken N

          Yeah. I know what CIWS stands for. Your splitting hairs here. I was merely pointing out that SEARAM and Phalanx CIWS look similar because they share the same radar.

          • Horn

            Then why did you tell him SeaRAM isn’t CIWS? I’m not splitting hairs, I’m correcting your statement.

      • RobM1981

        Cool.

        What do you think about SeaRam? I’ve always been skeptical about missiles… ever since the early Sparrows… :-O

        • Ken N

          I don’t know that much about it except that it’s been very successful in flight tests. It also has about double the range of the Phalanx CIWS..which is definitely a good thing.

    • Secundius

      The 9 Extra Feet is most likely to Accommodate a Larger Gun Magazine for the Oto Melara 3-inch (76.2x636mmR/62-caliber) Naval Gun Mount…

  • Ed L

    This is what the LCS should have been

    • Steve Skubinna

      Except then it’s basically a frigate.

      Which is fine, if you need frigates. But the Littoral Combat Ship was originally supposed to be a small inexpensive multimission coastal combatant. In the typical American way we upsized and gold plated it and now we have the current square peg looking for a round hole.

      • PolicyWonk

        Lamentably, the USN took a wrong turn when if coughed up the LCS after the initial idea (“street fighter”) was turned into “franken-ship”. According to former CNO Adm. Jonathan Greenert, LCS was “never designed to venture into the littorals to engage in combat”.

        Hence – the USN called it the “Littoral Combat Ship” knowing full well that the name is deceitful.

        If the USN needed a real littoral fighting ship, they had a good starting point with the Cyclone class, or even the Pegasus class (heavily armed, designed to fight). Instead, what we really got was an overpriced, oversized, generic utility ship that the admirals can water-ski behind, but cannot venture into a contested littoral area without significantly increasing the risk to the lives of its crew (this description, while accurate, would’ve ensured it never got funding).

        According to the USN’s own Inspector General’s report, neither variant of LCS “would survive the missions commanders are likely to assign it…”. And according to Defense Industry Daily, no version of LCS, current or future, would ever meet even the navy’s lowest construction/survivability standard.

        • USNVO

          The real problems were three fold.

          First, was how it was described. I was supposed to be a multi mission patrol ship that could “replace” the PCs, MHCs,, MCMs, and the last of the FFxG-7 which at that point were really just glorified patrol ships that cost a fortune to man and operate. The capability being replaced was the maritime security patrol of the PCs and FFG-7s and MIW (using the Organic MCM systems under development). Shallow water ASW was thrown in because there were several off board remote systems being experimented with by ONR (no programs of record). Decidedly low end, Important but not very sexy. Instead of explaining that right up front, they tried to sell it as a Frigate like ship because that was what the surface admirals thought about.

          Second, they put a ridiculous 40+ not speed requirement on it. High speed and low cost are not compatible. So instead of being an inexpensive, easily manufactured ship, you had to go with a massively powered, high speed hull form. End result was a ship at least a thousand tons more than it needed to be and probably $150million more expensive. Navy wanted a pickup truck, asked for a desert racer pickup truck and couldn’t figure out why it was so difficult to do. Put a 25kt speed requirement on the ship and you probably end up with something like a stretched BEAR class cutter (I know the USCG doesn’t call them BEAR class but that is just weird). Much better in just about every way.

          Finally, they were supposed to build two competing designs, choose one to modify with the best features and systems of both designs (which would not include IF diesels in any form) and then build that. But that made too much sense.

          LCS was never expected to be a high end platform, it was supposed to replace dedicated, single mission ships (yes, at that time FFG7s were very expensive single mission patrol ships) with something that could do MIO, CounterPiracy, Drug Interdiction, etc on a daily basis (basically coast guard cutter) freeing up DDGs and CGs for other missions but also do MIW, Shallow water ASW, and coastal patrol as part of a high end operation when required. It wasn’t a street fighter (although people still think so), it wasn’t a Frigate (and neither was the FFG-7 at that point. The FFG-7 high end mission replacement is known as the DDG-51flt2A), it was never supposed to operate without cover from other ships any more than PCs, MCMs, and MHCs were. Either LCS class is a dramatic survivable, range, and endurance upgrade over the MCM, MHC, and PC even in their current form. And they are still cheaper than a FFG-7 to operate, even with their ridiculously high top speed.

          Good idea, poorly explained and executed.

          • Steve Skubinna

            Actually, high speed and low cost can be compatible – just not in a major combatant.

          • Donald Carey

            On ANY vehicle, be it a car, plane or a ship, increasing the top speed costs.
            TANSTAAFL !

          • Steve Skubinna

            My point is, the smaller the vehicle, the less the cost of speed. Pushing a PC at 36+ knots costs far less than doing it to a 3000 ton LCS.

          • Horn

            That’s not always the case. The smaller (shorter) the vessel, the larger proportional engine power is needed compared to a larger (longer) vessel. Ship mass affects acceleration and engine power required. You’d be surprised by how efficient engines are on a larger vessel when traveling at the same high speed as a smaller vessel. Efficiency can be just as important as cost at times.

          • USNVO

            True, but 36kts on a ship like a PC (330LT) is really not high speed and it is questionable if they can get much beyond 33kts in the real world. Even then, an equivilent ship with 30kts of top speed would cost significantly less. The LCS had a required speed of 40kts and an objective speed of 50kts. To do that, you need ludicrous levels of horsepower, water jets or supercavitating screws, and some type of non-displacement hull. All of which cost huge bucks. If they had specified a more reasonable 25kts, you could have steel construction, displacement hull, regular screws, and diesel power at a significantly lower price. Cheaper to buy, cheaper to operate, and probably a faster operational and strategic speed which is probably way more important than maximum tactical speed for the planned operations.

          • PolicyWonk

            Thank you for your posting. The problem I see are the very large size (3000t) for what is supposed to be a littoral “combat” ship. Combining the “street fighter” concept with a fundamentally under-armed, under protected, too-big for shallow water, too small for blue water, floating version of the F-35 (does a lot of things, poorly), that goes really fast at maximum expense to the taxpayers doesn’t seem right.

            While its better armed than a minesweeper (or other non-combatant), this sets the bar very low indeed. Note that for their size, the PC’s are heavily armed and built to fight.

            This “littoral combat ship” most notably seems to ignore all the hard-learned lessons of littoral combat.

            That its supposed to be a low-end ship is one thing. But that doesn’t explain or justify the high expense of LCS in either variant, and neither will ever be built to the navy’s level-1 standard (fleet oilers, non combatants, are built to the level-2 standard), according to Defense Industry Daily. Note that one of the primary reasons for the high cost of LCS ($400M/sea-frame) doesn’t include any mission package – which if other than the nearly toothless SuW package all but doubles the price. Once you get to that point, the expense rivals that of our allies high-end frigates (the FF variant costs will easily exceed that level), with little of the ROI.

            I also take note of our allies who were offered LCS: all of them walked away, saying they were far too expensive for such small ROI.

        • CaptainParker

          But the defense contractors are making billions…and that is what counts.

          • Steve Skubinna

            That’s not all that counts – politicians can bring pork to their states and districts and brag about the jobs they snagged.

          • CaptainParker

            Excellent point!

          • old guy

            It’s called Project SWIPE (Shipyard Welfare Incentive Program, Expensive|).
            But why complain? Itv has already produced USS HUNK-A-JUNK (LCS) and the USS FLOPOVER (DD1000). More to come.

        • Steve Skubinna

          Funny you mention the Cyclone class. Back in ’03 when I heard that the USN was planning to build a “Littoral Combat Ship” my response was “You have them already – they’re called PCs, and you were getting rid of them when 9/11 happened.”

          Aside from the general trend towards upsizing and gold plating you get when a committee is put in charge of warship design, I firmly believe another reason for the bloat is that the Captain’s and Commander’s Union wouldn’t tolerate something like a PC under the command of a senior LT or LCDR. Nope, had to have seagoing command billets for the three stripers. And that means you’ve edged up into major combatant territory.

          Sadly there are plenty of ships that fit the original claimed parameters of the LCS. Unfortunately none of them are US designs, and the “Not Invented Here” syndrome is alive and well in US defense procurement. I still think two radically different designs would have fit the bill – go smaller towards the Visby class and larger towards the Absalom class. One or two Absaloms per squadron to provide the tactical support and command and control, and a half dozen Visbys for the knife fighting. The Absalom has the hangar and maintenance to operate and support a couple helos and some UAVs which can be forward deployed to the Visbys as needed. The Absalom can also carry some mission modules for the smaller units and swap them out as needed. Heavy guns for fire support and SSMs that can perhaps be targeted by the small ships. And finally, you can have a CDR in command of the Absalom and a CAPT riding it as Commodore and everybody gets sea billets.

      • Ed L

        Standard political screwup

  • KellyJ

    “It has some of the same components as a [Littoral Combat Ship], especially from the propulsion train but”
    Not a very good selling point considering how long Fort Worth has been stranded in Singapore due to a propulsion casualty (crew caused or not).

  • Sentinelfahja

    We need to upgrade the current LCS hulls with something similar to this hardware. The Frigate hulls could add (2) LM EXLS which would add 24 ESSM and not take up too much internal volume. We would need to add a FC director for this. At minimum (2) single tube fixed Torpedo Tubes to give the ship a fighting chance until it can launch it’s helo if it’s ambushed by that shallow water diesel sub it’s searching for. A hull mounted sonar system, preferably conformal so that it has a better chance to hear that ambush coming while the ship is transiting from one area to another, and upgrade to a 76mm Vulcano version gun. It could still maintain 1/3 the mission space. Having served on FFG-36 I’m aware of it’s pro and cons, At best we could take on 2-3 air targets before being overwhelmed, but sub hunting was what we did best. We are stuck with these hulls, I hope someone offers forward thinking solutions to solve these short comings when we FREM these units in the coming years.

  • Curtis Conway

    Congress is now making some very interesting decisions concerning our nations defense. Instead of one low-end design with a single logistics train, we will be forced to support two logistics trains for these anemic vessels of which we need neither, for they are neither combat capable to the point of relevance in a battle group, and they cannot defend themselves, or survive an attack if they take damage . . . and it is all POLITICS! So much for fidelity to our nation’s defense. What of a state of affairs! Thank You for nothing Republican congressman Bradley Byrne of Alabama’s 1st congressional district.

    • Secundius

      Depends on whether the Meaning is Hidden in the Description. Two Logistic Support Ships, could imply a “Cycler” and “Semi-Cycler” Delivery Ships. One Fast (JHSV) and One Slow…

      • Curtis Conway

        Secundius, Congressman Byrne is preserving Austral jobs in Alabama, and preserving the manufacture of that platform cancelling down-select of the LCS platform. THAT is a travesty for political reasons, and does not serve National Security. We will literally waste logistics support money we don’t have, for ships that we don’t need, because they cannot do the job.

        • Secundius

          Quote by Mark Grace, “If you’re not cheating, you’re not trying hard enough”…

          • Curtis Conway

            Well, that may be, but this Christian Eagle Scout was taught different. I’ll cheat in combat (all’s fair in love & war), but not against my own team.

          • Secundius

            Conflict between the PRC and/or Russia, is only a matter of time. Hiding the Plan in the Wordage Buy’s Time. I prefer to Cheat NOW, than Improvise LATER…

  • The original Freedom design was 378 feet, but since then the rest of the Freedom class have been lengthened–to 387 feet?

    The Mk46 is a light weight torpedo.

    Any word on the six sightly smaller ships they are planning to buy?