WASHINGTON — The US State Department today announced its approval of the proposed sale to Saudi Arabia of four heavily armed versions of the Lockheed Martin littoral combat ship (LCS), a deal that, along with weapons, systems and support, would be worth up to $11.25 billion.

Congress has 30 calendar days to approve or deny the deal, which would mark the first international sale of an LCS variant.

The announcement comes after years of negotiations by Lockheed Martin, prime contractor for the US Navy's Freedom-class LCSs, to secure contracts for the Saudi Naval Expansion Program II (SNEP 2), a major effort to replace and modernize the kingdom's eastern fleet, based in the Arabian Gulf.

The country's western fleet, operating largely in the Red Sea, is supplied primarily by France.

The four ships, dubbed the Multi-Mission Surface Combatant (MMSC), are expected to be classed as frigates by the Saudis. They will be the largest component of the SNEP 2 program, which is also expected to include six corvettes, 20 to 24 patrol vessels, three maritime patrol aircraft, and 30 to 50 UAVs. unmanned aerial vehicles. Altogether, the SNEP 2 program is expected to be worth at least $16 billion.

In a separate deal announced in May, the State Department approved the sale of 10 MH-60R multimission helicopters to operate from the frigates and corvettes, a deal valued at around $1.9 billion. Negotiations are underway, Lockheed Martin spokesman Keith Little said, and a contract is expected to be agreed upon before the end of 2015.

Lockheed Martin, supplier of mission systems for the helicopters, is in negotiations to buy Sikorsky, maker of the MH-60Rs.

The MMSC sale vindicates many years of work by Lockheed, which developed a number of design alternatives to appeal to the Saudi's desire for a ship more heavily armed than US LCSs.

"We are very pleased to have the opportunity to provide the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia with four multi-mission surface combatants based on the Freedom-class littoral combat ship," Little said. "We look forward to working with both navies in developing a low-risk, cost effective approach that delivers value back to the customers."

As to where the ships would be built, Little added that Lockheed Martin is working with the US Navy "to integrate domestic construction schedules and International Freedom-variant based ship opportunities."

Lockheed's US LCSs are built at Fincantieri Marinette Marine in Marinette, Wisconsin.

The armament and configuration of the Saudi MMSC is in stark contrast to the US Navy's frigate version of the LCS, now under development. The Navy, in a decision announced in December, chose not to install vertical launch systems (VLS) for missiles or to replace the 57mm guns of the LCS with a heavier 76mm weapon. While the US frigates will have a yet-to-be-determined over-the-horizon missile, there will be no area air defense missile capability.

The Saudi ships, however, will feature a 16-cell VLS installation able to launch Evolved Sea Sparrow missiles, and will carry Harpoon Block II surface-to-surface missiles in dedicated launchers, and anti-air Rolling Airframe Missiles in a SeaRAM close-in weapon system. The MMSC will also mount a 76mm gun.

While the Saudi ships will have a small mission bay, the MMSCs will not feature the mission modules that are the heart of the US Navy's LCS concept.

As in the Freedom class LCS, the Saudi ships will have a Lockheed Martin COMBATSS-21 combat management system, which shares some commonality with the much larger Aegis combat system, and feature the Cassidian TRS-4D C-band radar.

Should there be no objection from Congress, Little said an MMSC contract with the Saudis is expected in 2016.

The text of the State Department announcement is below.

Email ccavas@defensenews.com

WASHINGTON, Oct. 20, 2015 - The State Department has 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 has 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.

Implementation of this proposed sale will require the assignment of additional U.S. Government and/or contractor representatives to Saudi Arabia.

There will be no adverse impact on U.S. defense readiness as a result of this proposed sale.

This notice of a potential sale is required by law and does not mean the sale has been concluded.

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