By Carlo Munoz
The Navy plans to deliver key pricing and design data for both variants of the Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) to the Saudi Arabian military, edging the Pentagon closer to a foreign military sale of the vessel, Navy Secretary Ray Mabus said yesterday.
Navy officials are looking to have design and development information for an “LCS-like” ship handed over to Saudi officials sometime this spring, Navy Secretary Ray Mabus said during yesterday’s hearing of the House Appropriations Defense subcommittee.
Included in that exchange will be data on both the Lockheed Martin [LMT] and Austal USA-designed versions of the LCS, he told lawmakers. Details on price availability for the Saudi version of the LCS will be sent to Riyadh sometime this summer, the service secretary added.
“I know that their staffs have been on both ships [so] they have taken a look at it,” Mabus said shortly after his testimony before the House subpanel, referring to members of the Saudi navy.
Initial discussions on potential U.S. sales of Navy hardware to the Saudis began in 2008, when the Director of the U.S. Defense Security Cooperation Agency Vice Admiral Jeffrey Wieringa said the Pentagon and the Royal Saudi Navy were in talks over American involvement in the country’s effort to expand its eastern fleet.
Known as the Saudi Naval Expansion Plan II (SNEP II), the deal with the United States would have the Pentagon sell between $10 billion to $20 billion in equipment to the Saudi fleet. Along with an LCS variant, both countries had also discussed sales of the Navy’s MH-60R helicopter built by Sikorsky [UTX], the Boeing [BA] built P-8 Poseidon intelligence, reconnaissance and surveillance aircraft and Northrop Grumman‘s [NOC] MQ-8 Fire Scout unmanned drone, according to news reports at the time.
Aside from the LCS, Mabus did not comment on the other possible platforms that could be part of any foreign military sale (FMS) to Saudi Arabia, but the service secretary did note the LCS information given to the Saudis is putting the Navy “down the route that we normally go down with foreign military sales.”
The proposed LCS information exchange with the Saudis comes three months after the Navy issued dueling development deals for the ship in January.
The 20-ship deal was split down the middle, with separate 10-ship contracts being awarded to both companies. The Lockheed Martin team was awarded $437 million for development and construction on its half of the LCS, while Austal USA won $432 million for its portion of the build.
While U.S. participation in the Saudi’s expansion plan is still up in the air, service leaders were steadfast in their position on one possible flashpoint in the region where that expanded Saudi naval force would operate.
Mabus, as well as Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Gary Roughead and Marine Commandant Gen. James Amos who also testified at yesterday’s hearing, are confident the increasingly volatile political situation in Bahrain would not affect U.S. Navy operations in the country. Bahrain is home to U.S. Naval Forces Central Command, 5th Fleet.
Fifth fleet operations are continuing as normal “up to this point” and the Navy leadership is “very comfortable” with the fleet security, Mabus told members of the defense subcommittee.
Bahrain is only the latest country in the Middle East to be swept up in the revolutionary fervor that has already toppled governments in Egypt and Tunisia and is threatening to unseat Col. Muammar Gaddafi’s regime in Libya.
However, Roughead said he remains in almost daily contact with Fifth Fleet Commander Vice Adm. Mark Fox and that he has indicated that the current political upheaval in Bahrain is having “no ramifications” for the Navy’s operations. That said, Mabus and Roughead both noted that service leaders would continue to “keep a close eye” on the command as the situation in Bahrain develops.