Pentagon approves $11bn deal for 4 Lockheed ships to Saudi Arabia

© U.S. Navy / Lockheed-Martin / Handout
The US government has approved the potential sale of up to four warships to Saudi Arabia, along with weapons, training and logistics support. Lockheed Martin Corp. is the principal contractor in the $11.25 billion deal, which is still being negotiated.

US lawmakers were notified of the potential sale by the Pentagon’s Defense Security Cooperation Agency, which oversees foreign military sales. On Tuesday, the agency published the deal’s details on its website. The actual ships, weapons and other hardware included in the proposed transaction amount to $4.3 billion, with the rest of the funds going to engineering, logistics and training portions of the program.

Dubbed the Multi-Mission Surface Combatant (MMSC), the new warships would be based on Lockheed’s Freedom-class littoral combat ship (LCS) design. Radar, sonar and fire-control systems would be included in the sale, along with a full armament suite.

On the list of offensive armaments that would be provided within the contract are RGM-84 Harpoon anti-ship missiles and 76mm OTO Melara MK-75 main guns. The ships would also be armed with RIM-162 ESSM medium-range surface-to-air missiles, RIM-116 missiles and MK-15 Phalanx point defense systems.

The proposed sale will “enhance the stability and maritime security in the sea areas around the Arabian Peninsula and support strategic objectives of the United States,” the Pentagon said in the announcement, describing Saudi Arabia as “a strategic regional partner” and an “important force for political stability and economic progress in the Middle East.”

The sale of the new US ships “will not alter the basic military balance in the region,” the Pentagon added.

READ MORE: Saudi Arabia to buy 600 Patriot missiles for $5.4 bn

Gulf Arab states are eager to buy new US weaponry in the wake of a nuclear agreement reached with Iran in July. As part of an effort to reassure its Arab allies, the Obama administration promised in May to work towards increased security cooperation, particularly “on fast-tracking arms transfers… counter terrorism, maritime security, cybersecurity and ballistic missile defense.”

Saudi Arabia is looking to modernize its naval forces in the Persian Gulf, which currently operate four US-built corvettes acquired in the early 1980s, and three French-built frigates purchased between 2002 and 2004. The Royal Saudi Navy’s Eastern Fleet is based in the Persian Gulf port of Jubail.

Lockheed CEO Marillyn Hewson said the deal could be completed in 2016, according to Reuters. The company is also hoping to finalize the $1.9 billion sale of ten MH-60R helicopters, produced by Sikorsky Aircraft, to the Saudis. That sale was approved by the Pentagon in May.