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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, would 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.

Tim Fish reported in December 2016 that "The Royal Saudi Navy is planning to procure new destroyers that have a ballistic missile defence capability as well as standard anti-air warfare role. US Navy Arleigh Burke-class destroyers from Huntington Ingalls are thought to be favoured although the smaller FREMM frigate from France and F-100 from Spain are also under consideration. A decision is expected in 2017. In addition there are plans for new frigates to cover anti-submarine warfare (ASW) and anti-surface warfare (ASuW) roles in a programme announced in May. Several ships are required and initial plans saw the consideration of the purchase of four ships based on the Lockheed Martin design of the US Navy's Littoral Combat Ship. Although the offer was not accepted, negotiations will continue.

"Plans for patrol boats seem to have progressed with German press reports in 2014 suggesting that the publicity shy shipbuilder Lurssen has secured a $1.7 billion project for 2-3 OPVs about 80m-long, with 5-10 coastal patrol boats and 100 other smaller patrol boats and interceptor craft, which are yet to be confirmed ...."

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.

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 was trying to place an order with Germany for coastal submarines. Submarine training is completed outside of the country.

SNEP II / Eastern Fleet Modernization Program (EFMP)

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.

By 2015 the Royal Saudi Navy planned to renovate the Eastern Fleet, based in the Persian Gulf and facing Iran’s Navy and Revolutionary Guard Corp. The expected price tag was variously reported as between $11.25 and $20B. The existing Eastern fleet was American built, including four 1,038 ton corvettes and nine 495 ton guided missile boats. Having entered service in the early 1980s, all were nearing the end of their useful lives.

In February 2015, Defense News reported that Saudi Arabia had sent a letter of request to the US Navy that outlined the entire program:

  • 4 x 3,500-ton “frigate-like warships” capable of anti-air warfare, armed with an eight-to-16-cell vertical launch system (VLS) capable of launching Standard SM-2 missiles; fitted with an “Aegis or like” combat system using “SPY-1F or similar” radars; able to operate Sikorsky MH-60R helicopters; with a speed of 35 knots.
  • 6 x 2,500-ton warships with combat systems compatible with the frigates, able to operate MH-60R helos. Initial approval from Riyadh for the purchase of five Avante 2200 corvettes from Navantia was reached in February 2016.
  • 20-24 x fast patrol vessels about 40 to 45 meters long, powered by twin diesels.
  • 10 x “maritime helicopters” with characteristics identical to the MH-60R.
  • 3 x maritime patrol aircraft for coastal surveillance.
  • 30-50 UAVs, some for maritime use, some to be shore-based.

In January 2016 Saudi Arabia rejected an offer from the US Navy to build four LCS-derived frigates – the latest move in an ongoing negotiation over price and schedule. The ships, known as the Multi-Mission Surface Combatant (MMSC), were the largest part of Saudi Arabia's $16 billion plan to replace and modernize the kingdom's eastern fleet in the Persian Gulf. The modernization plan includes the four frigates, along with six smaller corvette-sized ships, all operating Lockheed Martin Sikorsky MH-60R helicopters. The helicopters are to cost $1.9 billion. A number of smaller vessels and aircraft also were in the plan.

Negotiations had been underway between Washington and Riyadh over the MMSC package, which includes weapons, logistics, training and other services. Reportedly, the Saudis balked at the price tag for the MMSC package 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. The first ship would be delivered in about seven years, which the Saudis reportedly thought is excessive. Washington was expected to return to the bargaining table with counter offers.

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