It seemed that the firebird of the next “contract of the century” was already in the hands of Lockheed Martin. But the sweet anticipation of happiness was short-lived. The desired transaction has been postponed. Moreover, the Damocles sword of complete collapse hung over it.
Let's go back a year ago. At the end of January last year, the American media, choking with delight, reported that Riyadh in the framework of the Saudi Naval Expansion Program II (SNEP II) was ready to conclude a contract with Washington for the acquisition of the kingdom of warships and other naval equipment for the Navy in the amount of over $ 16 billion. It was about the purchase of four missile frigates with a displacement of 3500 tons, twelve corvettes of 1150 tons and 24 patrol boats, as well as weapons for them, including ten anti-submarine helicopters MH-60R Sea Hawk. All of them were intended to replenish the Eastern fleet, operating mainly in the narrow Persian Gulf, separating the territory of Saudi Arabia from Iran, relations with which cannot be called friendly.
At the Pentagon and the headquarters of the American military-industrial corporations studied the application, they all counted and said that they could not manage to meet the $ 16 billion. According to the US military, the deal can weigh in no less than $ 20 billion. So to say, the Americans raised their stakes, hoping that the Saudis never stint on weapon.
Suffice it to recall that in 2010, Saudi Arabia entered into a long-term contract with the United States for $ 60 billion, providing for the supply of X-NUMX F-84 fighters and upgrading of the 15 fighters of this model, which are armed with the Kingdom's Air Force, as well as the acquisition of X-NUMX attack helicopters AH- 70D Apache Longbow Block III and 70 Sikorsky transport helicopters
UH-60M Black Hawk. In 2014, Riyadh signed a deal with BAE Systems, a British corporation, to purchase Eurofighter Thypoon fighter jets for $ 72 billion.
In 2014, Saudi Arabia’s defense expenditures amounted to a record $ 80 billion. This Middle Eastern oil outlook surpassed Britain and France in defense spending. Therefore, in Washington it was considered that even with the beginning of the fall in oil prices to $ 80-70 per barrel, Riyadh will find funds for a ship deal. Especially since the war for lower prices for black gold was unleashed by this very Middle Eastern kingdom in order to bring its competitors in the world markets to its knees.
The lion's share of expenses in the upcoming deal fell on four frigates. They were developed on the basis of the so-called littoral warships (Littoral Combat Ship - LCS) - LBK, which are now already classified in the US navy as frigates. History This project is interesting and instructive.
LCSI is the "international" version of the littoral combat ship.
The first American LBK building, called the Freedom, had not yet had time to go on water, as work on its export version began to boil. Lockheed Martin, the head of the group of companies involved in this project, in December 2005 entered into an agreement with Israel on a two-year research program to create a similar ship based on LCS for the needs of the Navy of this country - LSI (Littoral Combat Ship - Israel) .
Such efficiency on the part of American companies was explained by the fact that the United States had long ago lost the status of the leader of the world military shipbuilding market. And now there was an opportunity to take revenge by offering a new generation warship to foreign partners, with interchangeable weapons, high speeds (more than 40 nodes) and “included” in the network-centric information system.
Having invested several million dollars in the LBK version, adapted to the needs of the Israeli Navy, Tel Aviv refused to build these ships because of the high cost and the inconsistency of their characteristics with the requirements of the Jewish Navy. (Now the German shipyards for the Israeli Navy totaling 430 million euros, of which one third will be paid by the German government, four corvettes of the type MEKO 80 - Saar 6 with a displacement of 2000 tons are built - author's note).
Lockheed Martin’s efforts to promote LCSI to the Israeli Navy have attracted the attention of other states, including Saudi Arabia. Here, however, a delicate situation arose with the last letter of the abbreviation LCSI. It is not difficult to guess that the letter “I”, which stands for “Israel”, could not have arranged the Saudis and the leaders of other Islamic states. But Lockheed Martin marketing experts quickly found a way out, saying that “I” does not mean at all “Israel”, but “International,” that is, “international.”
Variants of corvettes and frigates of length 85, 118 and 150 m based on LBK type Freedom.
However, in addition to linguistic and related political problems, the authors of the project, when discussing the appearance of the future ship with potential customers, have other difficulties. So, not rejecting in principle the concept of interchangeable weapons, foreign partners expressed doubts about the need for its widespread introduction. They preferred a more traditional approach to equipping the ship.
The experts at Lockheed Martin took this wish into account. They created a project of a frigate of length 115,5 m with a developed superstructure, which was crowned by the antenna post of the multi-purpose radar SPY-1F of the Aegis system (this radar was installed by Lockheed Martin on the Norwegian frigates of the Fridtjof Nansen type). In the rear part of the superstructure are the Mk 41 vertical-launch rocket launchers. LCS International could arm itself at the choice of the customer with various artillery systems: 76-mm OTO Melara, 57-mm BAE Systems, 35-mm Rheinmetall and 20-mm six-barrel Phalanx near-rifle defense machine from Raytheon. The ship was supposed to equip combat control system COMBATSS-21. He had a helicopter platform and a hangar.
The frigate offered by the United States for export was significantly different from the LBK intended for “domestic consumption”, primarily in terms of weapons composition. LCSI is a universal ship that does not require a special support system and the availability of removable crew members for servicing modules of various purposes with weapons. At the same time, he retained the best qualities of the LCS being built for the American fleet — cutter speed, low visibility and high degree of integration with the network-centric control system of the armed forces.
However, neither Riyadh, nor other rich countries of the Middle East did not “peck” on Lockheed development because of its high cost. However, Lockheed Martin did not slacken off efforts to promote a new project for both the US Navy and for export. An entire line of multi-purpose corvettes and frigates (Multi-Mission Surface Combatant - MMSC) was created based on the FBDOM lBK displacement from 1650 to 3500 t. The latter should be equipped with radar AN / SPY-1F with Aegis ASBU, and the medium ship and the smallest radar CEAFAR. They all have a GUS for detecting submarines. On all three in the nasal vertical launchers - Za Evolved Sea Sparrow (ESSM). But their number is different: there are four cells on the corvette, eight on the medium displacement ship and eight on the frigate, and four missiles in each cell. Each also has SeaRAM near-line defense systems. All modifications on the add-on - two Harpoon RCC quadruple launchers. On the frigate and the ship of average displacement, behind the latsports, the ship has a three-pipe 324-mm torpedo unit for firing anti-submarine torpedoes. Artillery systems: one by one 127-mm, 76-mm or 57-mm bow installation and several 25-mm machine guns and large-caliber machine guns. All have helipads with hangars.
Model MMSC version for Saudi Arabian Navy. His rocket armament is concentrated in the area of the helicopter hangar.
The 3500-ton frigate in the gate area of the helicopter hangar has four eight-unit MK 41 ATC units. They are designed for medium or long range SAM, PLAN ASROC and cruise missiles for shooting at coastal targets. On the superstructure are also reserved for the placement of weapons in removable modules.
All this was impressive, but the price of the order of $ 700 million-1,5 billion per unit caused dismay. The US Navy did not even dare to stutter about the desire to acquire such ships, knowing that Congress and the United States Administration would reject their initiative.
But Saudi Arabia is still interested in the project. The reasons that fueled interest in the American proposal were events in the south of the Arabian Peninsula and aggravation of relations with Tehran. The war against the Yemenite Hussite rebels is not going smoothly. They are not only bombarding the territory of the kingdom with ballistic missiles, but also drowning Saudi patrol boats with anti-tank missiles. Over the past year, they have floated six boats of the kingdom in the Bab el-Mandeb strait. But the most important thing is that Iran is increasing the power of its Navy, frightening not only its neighbors, but even the US Navy. Therefore, the Saudi Naval Expansion Program II program was adopted, that is, the Saudi Navy II Strengthening Program. (A similar program Sawari I of reinforcement of the Western fleet in the Red Sea was previously implemented through the acquisition of four frigates of the project F2000S and two tankers-tankers of French construction - author's note).
Small rocket ship project Tornado 21632. Its displacement is 560 T, the travel speed is 26 knots. It carries four Yakhont cruise missiles or the Club-N, 100-mm A-190 automatic cannon, two six-barrel 30-mm AK-630M, 1X4 automatic launcher 3М47 “Bending” with the Eagle or Eagle or MUR , two heavy machine guns.
In February last year, negotiations began between Riyadh and Washington on the final appearance of the MMSC frigates of the Saudi version. Particular attention was paid to determining the type of radar and air defense systems of the ship. Lockheed Martin was very interested in deploying its Aegis SPY-1F radar. Of course, today they are best suited for providing anti-missile defense not only for a single ship, but also for naval formations. These radars are second only to the more powerful and heavier SPY-1D radars, which are located on the destroyers of the US Navy, Japan and South Korea. However, these stations are very expensive.
And on October 19, the United States Department of Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA) notified Congress of Saudi Arabia’s possible sale of four frigates of the MMSC type, equipment and armament for them totaling $ 11,25 billion. In addition, Riyadh wants to purchase ten anti-submarines MH-60R Sea Hawk helicopters for $ 1,9 billion. That is, in general, the contract will pull on $ 13,15 billion, which, you see, very much. This amount is comparable to the annual costs of the US Navy for military shipbuilding. The upcoming deal has already been approved by the United States Department of State.
Rocket and artillery boat project 12300 "Scorpion". Its displacement is 465 T, the travel speed is 38 knots. He carries four cruise missiles "Yakhont" or Club-N, 100-mm automatic cannon А-190, ЗРАК "Kashtan-1".
From the list of products intended for the delivery of Saudi Arabia, and photos of models of future Saudi frigates, it is easy to get an idea of the appearance, equipment and armament of ships. Each MMSC will carry:
- two four-container launchers of the RGM-84 Harpoon Block II anti-ship missile system on a superstructure behind a chimney. In total, the sale of the Harpoon Block II 48 32 RCC for frigates and practical 16 is expected;
- two blocks of universal vertical launchers Mk 41, located side by side at the stern sections of the helicopter hangar (two eight-charge modules with four Raytheon RIM-162 ESSM medium-range SAMs). The sale of RNJUX 532 ESSM - 128 for installation on ships, 384 spare and 20 practical is foreseen;
- 11-charging launcher Mk 15 Mod 31 air defense missile system of the near line SeaRAM in the stern of the hangar roof. It is planned to deliver five PUs, including one spare and 188 XMD Raytheon RIM 116C Block II RAM, including 44 for direct deployment on frigates, 132 spare and 12 practical;
- one 76-mm OTO Melara Mk 75 automatic universal artillery gun. It is planned to sell five plants, including one spare.
In addition, the frigates will be equipped with two 20-mm Nexter Narhwal remote-controlled artillery mounts, ten 12,7-mm machine guns (total 48 machine guns, including eight spare ones, are supposed to be sold), two 324-mm Mk 32 three-pipe torpedo guns for firing squad guns against anti-guns they are placed onboard in the laxports of the superstructure at the level of the upper deck).
The electronic armament of frigates will also be very saturated. But in its composition, there have been some changes. Instead of the SPY-1F radar, an Airbus TRS-4D general detection radar is deployed (five sets are supposed to be supplied), which will work with the Lockheed Martin COMBATSS-21 automatic control system (five sets) and the Saab Cern 200 combined fire control system. The electronic component also includes the Thales CAPTAS towed active-passive sonar station (five sets), the Argon ST / Boeing WR-2000 radio intelligence station, the Lockheed Martin ALEX fire jamming system, the Torpedo Protection System AN / SLQ-25А Nix, and the Rockwell Collies system of communications / ARC-210, Link 16, ADNS and CENTRIXS data transmission equipment, Northrop Grumman UPX-29 state identification system (Mode 4 and Mode 5), L-3 Communications SAASM interference-free navigation receiver.
Yekuana Patrol Ship (PC23) of the Guaiquer Navy of Venezuela.
Each Saudi frigate of the MMSC project, like American ships of the LCS type, is capable of receiving two permanently-based MH-60R helicopters. Rotary-wing machines are capable of performing not only anti-submarine functions, but also percussion, since they can be armed with AGM-114R Hellfire II anti-tank guided missiles, which can attack armored vehicles and small surface ships and boats, as well as
70-mm rocket APKWS. The displacement of frigates of the MMSC type is 3500 T, the length is 118 m, the maximum travel speed is 35 knots.
Thus, a fairly balanced multipurpose combat ship appears. Its disadvantages include the relative weakness of strike weapons. The Harpoon Block II SCRC subsonic missile has a maximum target range of up to 150 km and a mass of 225 kg warheads, which is clearly not enough today. The "weak" and widespread in the world 76-mm Italian artillery installation OTO Melara. It, for example, is clearly inferior to the Russian 100-mm gun mount AK-190 “Universal” of a similar purpose and in terms of firing range and projectile power.
While at the Pentagon and the headquarters of American military-industrial companies were rubbing their hands in anticipation of the upcoming deal, Riyadh kept mum. And already at the beginning of this year, it became known that Saudi Arabia is not in a hurry to draw up a deal and is even thinking about abandoning it.
It was announced that the Navy of the Middle Eastern kingdom is not satisfied with the "price and construction schedule" of frigates. Indeed, if the cost of assembling serial LBK type Freedom managed to reduce by more than $ 100 million and bring to $ 440 million per unit, the Saudi ships will cost no less than $ 1,5-2 billion. And the first Lockheed Martin promises to deliver in seven years after signing the contract.
In fact, the timing and cost of the transaction is very significant. But there are undoubtedly other reasons that prompted the Saudis to show restraint. First of all, the war for the reduction of oil prices unleashed by Erd Beside today boomeranged to the kingdom itself. Saudi Arabia was forced in 2016 to drastically reduce its budget expenditures in the Defense and Security item by 30,5%. Only 213,4 billion Saudi rials (about $ 56,8 billion) will be allocated for these purposes - against 307 billion rials ($ 81,9 billion) in 2015. Under these conditions, the more than $ 11 billion contract for the MMSC seems overwhelming, and hopes for its fulfillment are melting away like mirages in the Arabian desert.
Secondly, the US State Department was somewhat late, making a statement about a possible 19 transaction in October. Only two weeks before that - October 7 - the ships of the Caspian Flotilla of the Russian Navy delivered a crushing blow with the Caliber-NK cruise missiles at objects of the Islamic State terrorist organization banned in Russia in Syria. The ships, from which they started, are several times smaller than the American MMSC, and their combat effectiveness is several times higher. In Riyadh, they realized that any potential enemy in the Persian Gulf, say the same Iran, bought small 3 Tornado missile ships in Russia or Tornado 14 missile-artillery boats armed with Club-N missiles - an export version the same "calibers", as well as supersonic anti-ship missiles "Yakhont", not only melt all MMSCs, but also cause great damage to the coastal objects of the kingdom. To pay very big money for ships that can not protect themselves and the country, there is no point.
The media has already reported that Riyadh is negotiating with the Spanish shipbuilding company Navantia about the assembly in its shipyards for the Eastern Fleet of the kingdom of five corvettes of the Avante 2200 type - based on Guaiquer-type patrol ships built by the Spanish Navy of Venezuela. According to the Spanish newspaper La Voz de Galicia, the corvette will have a full displacement of 2500 t, maximum speed - 25 nodes, cruising range on 15 nodes - 5000 miles, autonomy - 21 day. Its armament will consist of two paired anti-ship missile launchers, an air defense missile system for firearms for eight missiles, one ON Melara 76-mm gun mount, two three-pipe anti-submarine torpedo tubes. Helicopter 10-ton class will be placed in the hangar. Of course, this is not a stray MMSC. But, in any case, not unreasonably expensive.
Hints are made that ingenious Saudis have deliberately started negotiations with the firm Navantia in order to encourage Americans to drastically reduce the price of the “deal of the century.” May be. But neither the MMSC nor the Avante 2200 from the Club and Yakhont rockets will escape.