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Royal Saudi Naval Forces (RSNF) Modernization

The world’s largest yacht and probably the most expensive, the £400 million mega-yacht known initially as Project Azzam, will measure 590 feet (180 meters) when it is completed, around 54ft (17.5m) longer than the Eclipse owned by Chelsea FC owner Roman Abramovich. The Project Azzam yacht is longer than some cruise ships. It is rumored to have been commissioned by the Saudi Royal Family.

The principal combat ships of the navy were four French F-2000 frigates (2,870 tons) commissioned in 1985 and 1986, each armed with a Dauphin helicopter, eight Otomat antiship missiles having a range of 160 kilometers, torpedo tubes, and a 100mm gun. The Sawari I program called for the delivery of four F2000S multirole frigates and 2 auxiliary replenishment vessels to the Royal Saudi Arabian Navy over a 7 year program, including logistic support for 17 years was completed time and within budget and the ships had been operational since 1988.

Paramax Systems Canada not only designed, developed and integrated the combat system, but also set up the command staff requirement for the Royal Saudi Navy. The Company provided all the logistic support, and recently signed a contract for a major overhaul and modernisation program. In the same contract with France were two logistic support ships, twenty-four Dauphin helicopters, most armed with AS-15 antiship missiles, and support programs for training and maintenance.

The imperatives for naval investment – the Iranian threat, ageing inventories and broadening commitments – were all pushing by 2012 towards long-overdue investment. Manpower shortages, always the key limitation on Gulf naval forces, have been partly overcome. And the main competitors to the navy – the air and air defence forces plus the Saudi Arabian National Guard (SANG) – had sated their need for upgrades in deals worth tens of billions of dollars since 2008.

Saudi Naval Expansion Program (SNEP II)

The RSNF began working an initiative called the Saudi Naval Expansion Program (SNEP II), to replace its aging and outdated U.S.-built ships in their eastern fleet, homeported in Jubail. This massive purchase will include destroyers, patrol craft, helicopters, ground vehicles and other platforms, as well as warehouses and substantial upgrades to port infrastructure. The highest levels of the US Government and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) have engaged in an extensive dialogue on how best to modernize and increase the military capabilities of KSA to counter Iranian threats to block the Strait of Hormuz (SOH). Effective implementation of SNEP would relieve future deployment stress on U.S. assets in the Arabian Gulf, while possibly providing the RSNF with Arleigh Burke class destroyers to ensure the Strait of Hormuz remains an open passage for the 35 percent of the world's seaborne-traded oil.

Initially the Saudi Naval Expansion Program (SNEP) was seen as a $5 Billion program to fund the FMS acquisition of ships and weapon systems. By 2008 the US Defense Department was working with Saudi Arabia to define a naval modernization program valued at $15 billion to $20 billion. A total of about 13 ageing corvettes and frigates are to be replaced with about a dozen new surface combatants. The four aging All Medinah frigates would be replaced with three or four new frigate through the Sawari III program. This contract with the French would provide 3 or 4 new FREMM frigates to be delivered in the 2015-2020 timeframe.

As of 2008 consideration was also being given to a smaller, more agile Littoral Combat Ship that Lockheed Martin and General Dynamics were developing separate versions of for the US Navy. The packsagte might also include the H-60R Seahawk multimission helicopter built by Sikorsky; unmanned Fire Scout helicopters built by Northrop Grumman; and the P-8 maritime surveillance plane being built by Boeing.

By 2010 it was estimated that the first phase of the so-called Saudi Naval Expansion Program-II (SNEP-II) could be worth as much as $23 billion over 10 years for the purchase of up to a dozen new warships. In April 2011 Reuters reported that Saudi Arabia had asked the United States for prices for surface warships with integrated air and missile defenses, helicopters, patrol craft and shore infrastructure. Reuters reported that the request for medium surface combat ships and the rest of the hardware was received by the Navy in July 2010 through the Saudi Ministry of Defense and Aviation. Lockheed would propose a multimission version of its fast new Littoral Combat ship, perhaps fitted with Lockheed's Aegis weapon system. Another competitors would be Australia's Austal Ltd and General Dynamics Corp, which are teamed to build a Littoral Combat Ship for the US Navy. Those designs, with a displacement of 3,000 to 4,000 tons, could be equipped with the SPY-1F lightweight Aegis radar, similar to those fitted on Norwegian frigates. But the SPY-1F lacks the fidelity and software to perform the BMD mission. Some observers believed that Lockheed Martin will win the competition over Austal because Lockheed had a long standing working relationship with the Saudis.

Defense News reported Jun. 13, 2011 that Saudi Arabia was contemplating the acquisition of new DDG 51 Arleigh Burke-class Aegis destroyers that could be fitted with ballistic missile defense (BMD) capability. The U.S. Navy was reported to have briefed Saudi officials in late May on the capabilities of the destroyers, which would be far more powerful than any ship currently in the Kingdom's service. Saudis were said to be considering purchasing two destroyers plus an undetermined number of LCS vessels.

In August 2011 MSN reported that "There is a plan for Saudi to spend an extra $30bn to upgrade its navy fleet," said a Western diplomat in the Gulf. "This extra amount also includes maintenance and training for the forces," another Gulf-based diplomat said. A Saudi government adviser said he expected the deal to upgrade the navy fleet would be completed soon. “The chances this deal won’t be finalised are very remote. The money will basically be used to update the eastern fleet,” he said..." But neither of the two U.S. ships in competition for a new RSNF contract would meet 100% of the RSNF's requirements without significant design changes.

CENTCOM's Regional Integrated Air and Missile Defense (RIAMD) together with all the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries, RIAMD could link in RSNF capabilities for littoral defense as all regional systems began to be tied together. All the RSNF had was CIWS (close-in weapons system) point defense for its ships. RSNF has no significant air or missile defense capability until acquisition of Saudi Naval Expansion Program II (SNEP II)/Eastern Fleet Modernization Program (EFMP), at which time RSNF proposed to acquire the Surface Combatant Ship (SCS) equipped with the AEGIS SPY-1F combat system. The SM-2 Block IIIA missile is approved for sale to Saudi Arabia, which does not have an anti-ballistic missile capability. RSNF is interested in acquiring SM-3, which does have an anti-ballistic missile capability.

The two phases in the Saudi Naval Expansion Program-II (SNEP-II) are the corvette / small frigate element, and the purchse of conventional submarines. Discussions had been held with France and other countries for the supply of up to eight submarines. Saudi Arabia only operates miniature submarines and swimmer delivery vehicles for their commando special operations. The badge was struck to symbolize the military specialty. The Ministry of Defense in Saudi Arabia is trying to place an order with Germany for coastal submarines. Submarine training is completed outside of the country.

Al Riyadh Sawari-2 / F-3000S / La Fayette

Saudi Arabia contracted to purchase three Lafayette-type frigates (3,700 tons light, 4,650 full) from the French, armed with Exocet antiship missiles, and a 100mm gun. Thomson-CSF is the prime contractor for Sawari II, a 9 year, multi billion pound program for delivery of three F3000S frigates for the Royal Saudi Naval Forces, equipped with the state-of-the-art Arabel multi function radar and the Aster missile system similar to that already installed on the French Navy's nuclear powered aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle. The prime characteristic of La Fayette frigates is their stealth, which is to say, their low radar, acoustic, IR and electromagnetic signatures. The La Fayette concept featured the first major design innovations in this respect. These flexible, modular vessels are available in anti-air, anti-submarine and multirole versions.

The Sawari II vessels are based on DCN's highly successful La Fayette-class stealth frigates. They have an overall length of 133 metres and a beam of 17 metres for a displacement of 4,500 tons. The Sawari II frigates feature highly-automated combat management systems developed jointly by Thales and DCN and based on the CMS developed for the French Navy's La Fayette-class frigates. Their sophisticated combat systems include the SAAM naval self-defence system comprising an Arabel fire-control radar and Aster 15 missiles.

The first vessel for Saudi Arabia was delivered in mid-2002, with the others to follow in 2003 and 2004. Navy (Royal Saudi Naval Forces) SAAM air-defence system for three F-3000S (modified French La Fayette-class) frigates was ordered in 1997 and all equipment on board since September 2002. On Friday 20 July 2001, the frigate Makkah (Arabic for 'Mecca') built by DCN's Lorient shipyard for the Royal Saudi Naval Forces was launched during a ceremony attended by French and Saudi officials. The vessel was moved to a special berth for final outfitting prior to harbour acceptance tests. The Makkah was scheduled for delivery in the second quarter of 2003. The Sawari II contract signed by France and Saudi Arabia on 19 November 1994 called for the delivery of three frigates: The first, Al Riyadh, was launched on 1 August 2000. Harbor acceptance tests were scheduled to begin in September 2001.

The second, the Makkah, was launched on 20 July. The third, Al Damman, was built in the drydock vacated by the Makkah on 20 July. Like its predecessors, the Al Damman was assembled from pre-outfitted hull blocks. The Sawari II contract includes services ranging from logistic support to the training of crews and engineers, and the building of a training centre. Thales is prime contractor for the overall Sawari II program and DCN the naval architect for all three ships. The main industrial partner are DCN/DCN International for the platforms and propulsion systems and SFCS, a joint subsidiary of DCN and Thales, for the combat systems.

25-Meter / 75-Ton Patrol Boats

As of February 2013 Saudi Arabia was planning to buy German patrol boats for a total of around 1.5 billion euros ($2 billion) despite some opposition in Germany. Germany’s federal security council, which includes Chancellor Angela Merkel, issued a positive response to a preliminary request for the sale by the Bremen-based Luerssen shipyard. The boats, worth between 10 million euros and 25 million euros each, were expected to be delivered to Saudi Arabia within two years after the contract has been signed.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel's new grand coalition government was reported in February 2014 to be pushing hard to nail down a $1.9 billion contract with Saudi Arabia for 100 patrol boats expected to be built by the Lurssen shipyard of Bremen. Merkel's new government, comprising her conservative Christian Democratic Union and the center-left Social Democratic Party, intends to offer the Saudis export credit guarantees for the planned patrol boat sale.

The US Defense Security Cooperation Agency notified the US Congress on 09 July 2015 of a possible Foreign Military Sale to Saudi Arabia of 30 Mark V patrol boats and associated equipment, parts, training and logistical support for an estimated cost of $1.2 billion. The MK V SOC is a combatant craft heavy and falls in the 85-foot category. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia requested a possible sale of 30 Mark V patrol boats, 32 27mm guns, spare and repair parts, support equipment, personnel training and training equipment, publications and technical documentation, U.S. Government and contractor engineering, technical, and logistics support services, and other related elements of logistics support.

This proposed sale would contribute to the foreign policy and national security of the United States by helping to improve the security of Saudi Arabia which has been, and continues to be, an important force for stability in the Middle East. This sale of Mark V patrol boats would give the Royal Saudi Naval Forces (RSNF) an effective combat and threat deterrent capability to protect maritime infrastructure in the Saudi littorals. This acquisition would enhance the stability and security operations for boundaries and territorial areas encompassing the Saudi Arabian coastline.

The purchase of Mark V patrol boats represents an upgrade and modernization of the RSNF’s existing patrol boat capability. The proposed sale would enhance interoperability between the U.S. and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and would contribute to the stability in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the region. The Mark V patrol boats would provide additional capability to rapidly identify, engage, and defeat maritime security threats in the near-offshore region of the Saudi littorals. The boats would be used primarily to patrol and interdict intruders in Saudi territorial seas, and recognized economic exclusion zones. Saudi Arabia would have no difficulty absorbing these additional boats.

France on 13 October 2015 announced a series of deals worth 10 billion euros ($11.4 billion) with Saudi Arabia, during a visit by Prime Minister Manuel Valls. "France-Saudi Arabia: 10 billion euros in contracts," he wrote in a tweet. The deals include contracts and letters of intent between the two countries whose economic and political bonds have been strengthening. Saudi Arabia also entered exclusive negotiations to buy spy satellite and telecommunications equipment worth "billions of euros" from Thales. The deals also cover energy, health, food, satellites and infrastructure, according to the prime minister's office.

Among the agreements was a Saudi order for 30 patrol boats. An announcement of that plan was already made in June, and had been due to be concluded in October. The deal should bring in 600 million euros although the choice of the shipyard (between four French companies Piriou-DCNS, CMN, Ocea and Couach) was initially unknown.

Multi-Mission Surface Combatant (MMSC) Ships

The US State Department made a determination approving a possible Foreign Military Sale to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia for Multi-Mission Surface Combatant (MMSC) Ships and associated equipment, parts and logistical support for an estimated cost of $11.25 billion. The Defense Security Cooperation Agency delivered the required certification notifying Congress of this possible sale on October 19, 2015.

The Government of Saudi Arabia requested a naval modernization program to include the sale of Multi-Mission Surface Combatant (MMSC) ships and program office support. The Multi-Mission Surface Combatant program will consist of:

  • Four (4) MMSC ships (a derivative of the Freedom Variant of the U.S. Navy Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) Class) that incorporate five (5) COMBATSS-21 Combat Management Systems (four (4) installed, one (1) spare) with five (5) TRS-4D Radars (four (4) installed, one (1) spare)
  • Five (5) Identification Friend or Foe (IFF) (Mode 4- and Mode 5-capable) UPX-29 (four (4) installed, one (1) spare)
  • Five (5) Compact Low Frequency Active Passive Variable Depth Sonar (four (4) installed, one (1) spare)
  • Eight (8) MK-41 Vertical Launch Systems (VLS) (two (2) eight-cell assemblies per ship for 16 cells per hull)
  • Five-hundred thirty-two (532) tactical RIM-162 Evolved Sea Sparrow Missiles (ESSM) (one hundred twenty-eight (128) installed, twenty (20) test and training rounds, three hundred eighty-four (384) spares)
  • Five (5) AN/SWG-l (V) Harpoon Ship Command Launch Control Systems (four (4) installed (one (1) per ship), one (1) spare)
  • Eight (8) Harpoon Shipboard Launchers (two (2) installed four-tube assemblies per ship)
  • Forty-eight (48) RGM-84 Harpoon Block II Missiles (thirty-two (32) installed, sixteen (16) test and training rounds)
  • Five (5) MK-15 Mod 31 SeaRAM Close-In Weapon System (CIWS) (four (4) installed, one (1) spare)
  • One-hundred eighty-eight (188) RIM 116C Block II Rolling Airframe Missiles (RAM) (forty-four (44) installed, twelve (12) test and training rounds, one hundred thirty-two (132) spares)
  • Five (5) MK-75 76mm OTO Melara Gun Systems (four (4) installed, one (1) spare)
  • Forty-eight (48) 50-caliber machine guns (forty (40) installed (ten (10) per ship), eight (8) spares); ordnance; and Selective Availability Anti-Spoofing Module (SAASM) Global Positioning System/Precise Positioning Service (GPS/PPS) navigation equipment

Also included in this sale in support of the MMSC are: study, design and construction of operations; support and training facilities; spare and repair parts; support and test equipment; communications equipment employing Link 16 equipment; Fire Control System/Ceros 200 Sensor and Illuminator; 20mm Narwhal Gun; Nixie AN/SLQ-25A Surface Ship Torpedo Defense System; MK-32 Surface Vessel Torpedo Tubes; WBR-2000 Electronic Support Measure and Threat Warning System; Automatic Launch of Expendables (ALEX) Chaff and Decoy-Launching System; ARC-210 Radios; Combined Enterprise Regional Information Exchange System (CENTRIXS); Automated Digital Network System; publications and technical documentation; personnel training and training equipment; U.S. Government and contractor engineering, technical and logistics support services; and other related elements of logistical and program support.

In addition, this case will provide overarching program office support for the SNEP II to include: U.S. Government and contractor engineering, technical and logistics support, and other related elements of program support to meet necessities for program execution. The estimated value of MDE is $4.3 billion. The total estimated cost is $11.25 billion.

This proposed sale will contribute to the foreign policy and national security goals of the United States by helping to improve the security of a strategic regional partner, which has been, and continues to be, an important force for political stability and economic progress in the Middle East. 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.

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. Saudi Arabia will use the enhanced capability to keep pace with the rapid advances in technology and to remain a viable U.S. coalition partner in the region. The proposed sale of this equipment and support will not alter the basic military balance in the region.

The principal contractor for the Multi-Mission Surface Combatant will be Lockheed Martin Corporation of Bethesda, Maryland. There are no known offset agreements in connection with this potential sale.

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