(Corrects name, maker of radar in 16th paragraph)
By Andrea Shalal-Esa
DUBAI Nov 20 Lockheed Martin Corp
expects news about a multibillion dollar programme to modernise
the Saudi Arabian Navy in the next several months, senior
company executives told Reuters at the Dubai Airshow on
Wednesday after meetings with Saudi officials.
"We're hopeful in the next several months that some clarity
will present itself on how they want to go forward on what hull,
what design, and what mission equipment," said Patrick Dewar,
executive vice president of Lockheed Martin International.
Lockheed Chief Executive Marillyn Hewson discussed the naval
modernization programme and other issues during the air show
with Prince Salman bin Sultan, the Saudi deputy defence
minister, who was appointed in August, Dewar said.
"We understand the new Saudi deputy defence minister is
doing his own assessment on how they should go forward," Dewar
said. "We've had good meetings with them here at the show as
well as in the (Saudi) kingdom over the last couple of months."
U.S. executives and government delegates said they had not
seen any signs of a chill in U.S. ties to Saudi military
officials after Saudi intelligence chief Prince Bandar bin
Sultan last month said the kingdom was hoping to make a major
shift away from the United States.
Saudi Arabia is continuing to evaluate a range of options
for the naval modernisation programme, including purchases of up
to 12 of Lockheed's steel monohull Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) or
the larger DDG-51 destroyer built by General Dynamics Corp
, executives said.
General Dynamics had no immediate comment.
The number of ships would depend on whether Saudi Arabia
opted for the smaller or larger of the hull forms, they said.
The Saudi Naval Expansion Program II, or SNEP programme, has
been under discussion for years, but U.S. industry and
government officials say the effort has picked up some fresh
momentum in recent months. Earlier estimates had put the value
of the programme at around $20 billion.
Dewar said proposals submitted to Saudi officials by the
U.S. government also included Lockheed's Aegis combat system, an
MH-60R helicopter it builds with Sikorsky Aircraft, a unit of
United Technologies Corp, and a fast missile craft it
designed with VT Halter Marine, a unit of ST Engineering.
He said no decisions had been made on the programme.
Paul Lemmo, Lockheed senior vice president for corporate
strategy and business development, told Reuters in a separate
interview at the air show that the LCS ship was one of the
options still being evaluated by Saudi Arabia.
The USS Freedom, the first LCS ship built by Lockheed, this
week picked up supplies in Brunei and joined the relief effort
in the Philippines after completing a deployment in Singapore.
The U.S. Navy had planned to buy 52 of the faster, more
agile warships, but may scale back that order due to mounting
budget pressures, which makes any possible foreign orders that
much more important for Lockheed.
Australia's Austal builds a different
aluminium-hulled trimaran version of the LCS ship, but the Saudi
government is not looking at possible purchases of that model at
this time, U.S. officials said.
The U.S. LCS ships were designed to carry interchangeable
mission packages or "modules" for the Navy, but Lemmo said Saudi
Arabia and other potential foreign buyers all wanted permanent
weapons capabilities built into the ship.
He said Lockheed had proposed outfitting the ship with a
lighter version of the Aegis combat system that would carry
vertical missile launchers and the Aegis SPY-1F radar that
Norway installed on five frigates for Norway.
That is a smaller radar with less range than the Lockheed
SPY-1D radar that is installed on the DDG-51 destroyers built by
Lemmo said Saudi was still evaluating if it needed larger
ships that could carry the large missile defence system, or a
larger number of smaller, multi-mission ships.
He said the smaller LCS ships could be outfitted with
vertical launch systems that could fire smaller missiles,
including the SM-2 missiles.
No comment was immediately available from the Pentagon's
Defense Security Cooperation Agency, which oversees major
foreign arms sales.
(Editing by Mark Potter and David Evans)